THE Premier’s Award for Community Harmony at the 2021 Victorian Multicultural Awards for Excellence, was awarded to Sikh Volunteers Australia (SVA) for the significant impact they have made during the bushfires and pandemic.
The Award honours the organisation for its noteworthy contribution to increase understanding, acceptance and cooperation between different faith and cultural groups.
Jaswinder Singh, founding member and secretary from Sikh Volunteers Australia said, “It was also because the organisation had upheld the principles of human rights, and the service was purely based on whoever needs the support is being supported.”
“When the community give back just because of the service we have done, it’s an amazing feeling, and I’m very humbled and honoured with this reward,” said Mr Singh.
It is not the accolades and recognition that are the focus of the past two years for Mr Sing, it is the community gratitude shown to the organisation.
“For me the highlights are those messages which community members send back after they receive a meal,” said Mr Singh.
“The kind of messages we received motivates us to continue to do good, and I consider them to be the biggest highlight of our work.”
Since the non-profit charity was founded, it has focused on reducing distress in the community through food.
“The reason behind why we started the food delivery service in 2017 is because it is a concept of Sikhism,” Mr Singh said.
The organisation bases itself on one of the basic fundamental principles of Sikhism, Vand Chhakna, which means to share with everyone.
SVA provides freshly cooked meals to those experiencing food insecurity in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne primarily from their food van.
They deliver cooked meals free to single parents, the elderly, international students, and unemployed and homeless people in seven council areas.
In Sikhism another concept is Langar, roughly translated as a community kitchen.
“It’s where everyone sits together, eats together and they feel considerably equal,” Mr Singh said.
“We have adopted these two principles and have put them in the community in the form of a free food van and this is the ideology behind it.”
Job losses due to government restrictions during the pandemic has meant financial strain for many Victorians, and added to the number of people experiencing food insecurity.
Periods of lockdown, isolation or quarantine in Victoria left many people alone and without someone to talk face-to-face with.
Volunteers from SVA delivered home-cooked food to Victorians and engaged with those who were alone, vulnerable and needed support.
Mr Singh said the service is positive for the community because people feel they are being looked after, that someone is actually caring for them.
“There is a connection, there is a bond in there,” he said.
SVA delivered 271,000 free meals during the COVID-19 crisis from March 2020 to October 2021, including attending tier 1 exposure sites, like the maribyrnong apartments when they were forced into a sudden two-week lockdown.
Volunteers from the organisation also travel to crisis zones during times of national emergency disasters, such as floods and bushfires, to provide free food and drinking water to communities.
The SVA food van and service was a familiar sight at relief centres in East Gippsland during the Black Summer fires in 2019-20.
The group’s members drove 12 hours to provide food for flood victims, emergency workers and local residents during the floods in NSW in 2020.
There are risks involved when travelling into a disaster situation, not only in the environment around them, but also for their mental health.
They witness the trauma the community are experiencing, and listen to their stories.
Measures in place to counteract the distress include the rotation of volunteers at the relief centres with a fresh group travelling from Melbourne every day or every second day.
Sikhism has three basic fundamental concepts; Kirt Karna, earn your living with absolute honesty; Nam japna, keeping God in mind at all times for giving the resources; and Vand Chhakna, which means to share with everyone.
Mr Singh said, “When we follow these principles in our lives, fate actually guides us and motivates us to do good things and help everyone.”
“So [this] is, I think, the basic motivation and driving force behind all of this.”
“The messages we have received from the community, it is amazing.”
“It is something that I can’t forget for the rest of my life.”