When Sikhs led volunteers to help Aceh tsunami victims

Global Sikhs’s first mission to Aceh in 2004 – Photo: The Sikh (Special Issue) 2005
By Asia Samachar Team MALAYSIA|

On 26 Dec 2004, a tsunami struck Aceh. A 30m wall of water hit the Indonesian island triggered by a 9.1 magnitude quake which had struck undersea 160km off Sumatra’s coast. It flattened buildings and killed some 170,000 people in Aceh.

In Malaysia, the incident brought together a group of Sikhs, mostly volunteers of a Kuala Lumpur-headquartered youth-based Sikh youth organisation.

Volunteerism was already in their blood. Most of them were hardened volunteers of the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia (SNSM) which ran camps and other activities for the Sikh community in Malaysia and in the region.

In no time, they mobilised themselves into a humanitarian relief outfit. Calling themselves the Global Sikhs, they worked with Langkawi-based sailors who called themselves Waves of Mercy, Buddhist organisations and others — all with the common end of helping the victims of the massive tsunami.

With the working relationship with Waves of Mercy, they began sending volunteers and much-needed relief material to Aceh. The volunteers included medical and people with other expertise. In all, they had dispatched more than a dozen missions carrying volunteers and no less than RM27 million worth of goods.

“It was such a heart warming feeling to see strangers who didn’t know each other came together to help humanity. That was the greatest thing that came out of it,” Harwindar Singh, the then jathedar (president) of SNSM, told Asia Samachar.

“We had just returned after our annual one-week camp. The Samelan theme was ‘Vich Duniya Sev Kamaiye’. And then this happened. The next two to three months, our lives were put on hold for this, literally.”

SNSM headquarters, then at Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, was buzzing with activity. And it also acted as the command centre for the mission.

“I was touched to see the people and organisations that came together. The organisations had different objectives of their own, but we all came together to save lives and help deal with the impact.

“That experience had changed me for life. The fire is still burning,” he said, 15 years after the incident.

Global Sikhs Aceh Mission 2004 – Photo: The Sikh (Special Issue) 2005

Entrepreneur Harvinder Singh, the mission’s first operations director, recalls the event as if it had just happened yesterday.

“I was impressed with the humanitarian aspect of the whole thing. The way everybody came together to help… We asked and somebody would show up. No one could imagine so many people from around the world came so quickly to help,” he said.

In Aceh, Global Sikhs had setup their headquarters at Sabang Port on Pulau Weh. At that time, they were probably the few NGO relief teams with ships, allowing them to scout the west coast of the island for survivors.

“We avoided going to Bandar Aceh as it was already crowded with the other groups. In our discussions with the UN agency then, they told us to take care of the island,” he said.

Malaysian television station NTV7 had also hopped on one of the Global Sikhs-Waves of Mercy mission. You can catch a clip of their documentary here. The documentary clip ends with this: “Find someone who is worse off that you, serve him, and you will be alright.”

In the years to come, Global Sikhs had sprung into action, but none of its missions could compare to the depth and breath involved in the Aceh mission. They had tied-up with United Sikhs to assist Myanmar flooding victims in 2008 and had also gone to Nepal.

Their latest humanitarian work was to assist Punjab, India, after the recent flooding incidents. They are provided blankets to needy villagers in view of the severe winter.



How I spent my Rakhri – Ravi Singh (Asia Samachar, 17 Aug 2019)


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