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First Hand Account Katrina Relief Volunteer with United Sikhs
Gurujot Singh Khalsa, Sikhnet
This is my first hand account of doing seva with United Sikhs.
Some young sikh friends and myself have been feeling the urge to serve humanity in someway. We started our own group called S.E.V.A. (Sikh Espanola Volunteer Assoc). When we heard about the efforts that United Sikhs were doing we had found our opportunity. United Sikhs started off serving 1300 meals a day for hurricane Katrina relief under the project name “Ghanaia” (after Bhai Ghanaia) We all took at least a day off of work, gathered our money, and got the help of a few private donations. As soon as we could, after filling out a legal form and getting tetanus shots we bought tickets to Baton Rouge ….
When we were flying into the airport we saw lots of military helicopters, cargo planes, hummers, etc. We saw US army in a chain unloading boxes of supplies. Getting off the plane the humidity was intense, and it was hot. It reminded me of arriving into India. Tanmed Singh was waiting for us in the baggage claim. When we went to the headquarters I met up with Sat Avtar Kaur who was my classmate from Miri Piri Academy.
We arrived around noon and were eager to get to Seva. So we split up, and I went to the Allen Chapel with a small group where some evacuees were. Another group went to participate in the cremation of the Siri Guru Granth Sahib ji’s that were damaged in the hurricane. They put the ashes in the Mississippi river.
At the Allen Chapel There were about 100 evacuees. Of course there are bigger shelters but we went here because it seemed to need more help. We started off by helping them get organized. First we went to the second floor and saw an utter mess of opened boxes, canned food, and piles of clothes. We moved the boxes of canned food in a certain area, organized the mountains of clothes somewhere else, and put all of the medical supplies organized by category. The leaders of this shelter were in shock when they saw the room after we had gone through like a tornado and fixed it up.
Then we decided to help out with the crates of boxes outside incase it rains. With the help of a forklift we managed to move about half of those boxes upstairs and then it actually did rain. This was hard work, so a few of the kids decided to help out. We enjoyed their enthusiasm but they couldn’t lift the heavy boxes. The boxes were all filled with clothes. It seemed to me that there were more clothes then they could ever use, and it was hard to manage. But hopefully they will all be put to use over time.
Afterwards we reconvened at “United Sikhs Headquarters” This was actually Sumir Kaur, and Sahib Singh’s house they donated to the effort. They insisted that it was the Guru’s house because Siri Guru Granth Sahib was in prakash there. We had some dal, rice, subzi, and plain paranthas. I was happy to eat some desi food, because I’m used the New Mexican foods. Then we just socialized, played kirtan and shared in our chardi kalaa seva spirit. Even though I had never met any of the Sikh there, it felt like we were family. Meeting American born Sikhs like myself was very nice. I found out that I actually knew the United Sikhs head Kuldeep Singh. He is a sikhnet chat moderator, and I’ve been in email contact with him since I started at sikhnet 7 months ago. He showed us a clip of him playing kirtan at Guru Mustuk’s wedding.
Then next day I went back to the Allen chapel with a small group and served food. Some of the younger evacuees helped us prepare the food; they thought our project leader “Tej auntie” had a strange accent. We served evacuees from the shelter, volunteers, organizers, and evacuees from other households who depend on shelters for support. They were very happy to have a break from pre-packaged military food. Then we helped move more boxes of clothes. We saw 2 trucks come in with supplies (I think it was more clothes). The shelter didn’t seem organized enough to screen donation of supplies.
The next day was Sunday so we arranged to have Diwaan at the household/headquarters. Some Sikhs went to serve food at a different shelter. The night before some Sikh doctors from Chicago had arrived and were leaving on Sunday. They didn’t have much time so they spent it going to shelters and administering tetanus shots. We left to the airport in the afternoon.
After the trip S.E.V.A. talked about it and agreed that we had some expectations that Baton Rouge would be in peril and we would be saving lives. We had also thought that some of the evacuees might be racist, violent, or unwelcoming. However, neither of these were the case. We all felt gratified to have participated in any way. We touched some evacuees who felt like we really care, and our help was much appreciated. Also, we met some cool Sikhs brothers and sisters who share the Khalsa spirit of service.
I give special thanks to the hospitality of Sumit Kaur, and Sahib Singh, who are evacuees themselves. Thank you for your service Kuldeep Singh, Gurvinder Singh, and Tejinder Kaur (Tej Aunti).
S.E.V.A. is thinking about helping with hurricane Rita, but since it hasn't hit we can't make plans yet. United Sikhs is looking into it right now. I will help if I can, and I recommend it to anyone. It’s fulfilling and fun too.
Prabhu’s blog http://prabhukhalsa.blogspot.com/
Other first hand accounts and more pictures click here
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