By Jamie Salter
The year of 2021 brought new trials and victories to Sikh Volunteers Australia (SVA) founder Jaswinder Singh who tackled the coronavirus pandemic, floods, storms and personal hardship while selflessly serving his community.
Over the past year, the charity produced more than 129,370 meals to those in need.
It all started after Mr Singh travelled from Haryana, North India to settle in Australia in 2014.
He said he wanted to give back to his new community.
“We just wanted to do something and we wondered what our contribution was going to be and how we would be remembered,” Mr Singh said.
From that thought, the charity comprised of first generation migrants was formed and has been growing ever since – now with about 500 volunteers.
Although the charity was named Sikh Volunteers Australia, about 50 per cent of its volunteers are from varying religions including Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism.
In 2021, the charity celebrated the Sikh festival Vaisakhi at Bunjil Place, where 300 plus volunteers were called to the stage and awarded for their efforts.
“When you see them all up there in their traditional clothes, you can understand it’s not a Sikh group anymore and that is what we’ve successfully established,” Mr Singh said.
“Being such a multicultural community, we have created a bond and I think that’s our best achievement.”
For the second year in a row, SVA combated Covid-19 lockdowns and delivered 1,500 meals a day by utilising software called Routify which mapped out delivery points for its drivers.
The team ran the massive operation while managing social distancing and supply shortages.
But the pandemic brought about Mr Singh’s most difficult challenge of the year when his beloved father Balwinder Singh died in May.
Mr Singh was truly heartbroken when travel restrictions prevented him from attending his father’s final rituals.
“He’s the one who taught me everything and told me how to help others but at his final day, I was not there,” Mr Singh said.
“I wanted to be with my family but I couldn’t.
“A lot of people have been through that – the only thing I got from it was how it actually feels to be in lockdown.
“Everyone has sacrificed a lot to overcome this pandemic.”
The pandemic was not the only disaster in which SVA assisted the community with in 2021, with teams heading out to respond to the NSW floods in early April as well as local storms in early November.
Mr Singh said ASV was built to assist the nation as a whole, rather than a single suburb.
“We want to create an organisation that will keep on performing like this regardless if we are not there or not; a self-driven organisation that looks after the community where if someone requires help and the organisation has the capacity, they will go and help without question,” he said.
SVA received the Victorian Multicultural Award for Excellence in 2021 and Mr Singh has been nominated for City of Casey’s Australian of the Year.
Although SVA has been showered with achievements, Mr Singh said that was never the aim of the charity.
“Our motive is to give back to the community but now they are giving back to us in terms of respect and in terms of honour, and I accept them in a humble way, but that is not our goal,” he said.
The charity is fully funded by community donations, led by Dasvandh – a concept that the tenth part of one’s income should be donated to charity.
In 2017, 34 volunteers donated $1,000 each to purchase the food van and equipment, starting the service that has been running twice a week for the past seven years.
A new facility is currently in construction in Cranbourne West and is set to be completed by February 2022 which will allow SVA to produce 10,000 meals a day.
Mr Singh said the charity was also establishing a fleet of vehicles to respond to disaster situations.
“If a disaster situation comes anywhere in Victoria, we want to be in the position to be able to send a van full of food there and have two other vans for volunteers and equipment – that way the first van can start offering immediate relief,” Mr Singh said.
“We want to fleets like this so we can send them in different directions at the same time and that way we can utilise the volunteers’ power to offer relief.”
Mr Singh said the initial disasters the charity responded to helped the SVA streamline its service.
“The first big crisis we responded to was the Bunyip bushfires in 2019,” Mr Singh said.
“We learnt a lot there, that place was one and a half hours away and we went there believing there would be 100 people, but there was much more.
“Now we send someone ahead to give us on the ground information regarding the numbers.”
Mr Singh has many plans for the years to come and said he was hoping to develop a support service run by paid professionals to combat loneliness within the community.
“I consider myself fortunate, a lot of people want to do this but didn’t get the right opportunity,” he said.
“More than others, I have supported myself.”
Mr Singh thanked all the SVA volunteers for their contribution throughout 2021.