From An English Teacher To Humanitarian Crusader – Bernama

Sukhdave Singh, a former English teacher in Malaysia and an active member of the Sikh community, has been with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for the past 12 years now. In this interview with Bernama, he shares his South Sudan experience

| Yasmin Abdul Manan | Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia | 24 Oct 2015 | Asia Samachar |
Sukhdave (second from left) at the Maasai Mara National Reserve.
Sukhdave (second from left) at the Maasai Mara National Reserve.

The inborn passion to assist people in need motivated Sukhdave Singh, 49, an educator, to turn into a humanitarian worker. His crusade to help the less fortunate took him as far as South Sudan, a country that is undergoing the world’s worst humanitarian crises due to internal strife.

The South Sudan civil war between the government forces and the opposition militia since 2013 has yet to abate. Up to 50,000 people are feared to have been killed while another 1.8 million people have been displaced. The six-month stint in South Sudan was an intense humanitarian journey for Sukdev, both emotionally and physically.


Sharing his experience with Bernama, Sukhdave notes that being a part of a humanitarian aid team there has been a real eye opener for him on human sufferings. He now has a better picture on how people in conflict zone live and the suffering they endure on a daily basis.

“I have always enjoyed working with different people and I think being in the field gives you the opportunity to move and understand what is happening around the world and just not being focused on what is going on here in Malaysia only.

“We read about humanitarian crises almost everyday but being there experiencing the harsh situation is a different thing altogether. I think it gives a varied understanding of how people function in different places and how they face humanitarian crisis there,” said the father of two children.


Sukhdave also pointed out that some of the major challenges he had to endure while being a volunteer. Chief among all is the uncertain nature of the conflict itself, no one knows what is going to happen next.

“We have to be prepared always because any incident could take place anytime and that is always scary… life is so unpredictable there.

“You can plan but then you have to be prepared that things may not go as planned and this starts happening so fast that you get overwhelmed.”

He vividly recalled the massive logistic headache that he faced during the unforgettable stay in Kodok, south eastern of South Sudan. Traveling there was a great challenge.

“It is not easy to travel north especially during the rainy season … if there are strong winds helicopters will not be able to come and land so you travel by river on boats.”

However, after sometime, even the rivers were no longer accessible as one side of the river was under the control of the other faction. So it was not safe to travel along the river.

“So if you are on the wrong side you could be shelled almost instantly, so basically at the end of the day there is no river traffic at all and you are stuck,” he pointed out.

As rain starts to hit the South Sudan in June, many places becomes very muddy and traveling on foot is a nightmare. “Walking becomes very difficult, so you use a tractor with a trolley behind to put your stuff to travel. A transport mode never imagined but that was the only means to travel.”

Donkey carts are a common means of transporting water from the River Keniati, South Sudan. Upstream, children and women can be seen bathing and washing clothes. People drink the same water, resulting in cholera and other water-borne diseases - ICRC PHOTO (July 2014)
Donkey carts are a common means of transporting water from the River Keniati, South Sudan. Upstream, children and women can be seen bathing and washing clothes. People drink the same water, resulting in cholera and other water-borne diseases – ICRC PHOTO (July 2014)


Sukhdave, a humanitarian worker who have been with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for the past 12 years, explained that the sufferings of the people there made him appreciate the life that he is having here.

“The living state of the people there is just so sad, in some places people do not even have basic necessities. Houses are destroyed, they are just living in the bushes, sitting under the tree without anything with them.

“These affected people have very minimal supply of food and despite the fact that they have money they have nothing to buy. At times they will be more than happy to be given food rather than money.

“With all the difficult state that those unfortunate people are going through, I must say that I am thankful for whatever that I have and especially the peace that we are enjoying here in Malaysia. We have to maintain it like how it has always been,” he said.

Sukhdave added that despite all the difficulties that the civilians in South Sudan have been going through, one thing that really moved him was that these people were very welcoming.


“I am definitely touched by its people, they are so pleasant… everyone there was always smiling and they were always ready to help us if we faced any problem like accomodation.
“Seeing this gesture from people who have been suffering badly, did bring tears to my eye,” he said.

Among some of the assistance that Sukhdave and the ICRC provided in South Sudan were healthcare and physical rehabilitation services, improving access to clean water and reuniting loved ones while visiting war prisoners.

Meanwhile, Sukhdave advised the younger generation here to be more involved in the humanitarian support field and to venture out to the world to gain valuable experience while contributing in making the world a better place to live in.

“Malaysians should go out there to experience the living conditions of people in the conflict zone to further understand the sufferings of people out there.

“But if you feel that you want to make a difference without having to go to those places, a good place to start is here whereby you can assist homeless people who are also in dire need of assistance,” he said. – Bernama (24 Oct 2015)


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