Ravi Singh: ‘Recognising The Human Race As One.’ | Sikh Philosophy Network
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Ravi Singh: ‘Recognising The Human Race As One.’

Inderjeet Kaur

Oct 13, 2011
Seattle, Washington, USA
Ravi Singh, 44, whose Sikh organisation Khalsa Aid famously plunged into the waters at Burrowbridge on the Somerset Levels during this year's floods to offer aid, is by no means the stereotypical volunteer ‘do-gooder'.

He's just a good person, through and through, who has been impelled to take the route of helping others, almost accidentally, but with deep and enduring belief that this is what life should be about. Immensely warm, funny, modest, empathic and generous, but consummately practical, he's a hands-on organiser with others who feel as he does, that working to the benefit of all is just a natural human instinct. That he's a remarkable person never occurs to him.

‘I was born in Singapore, then we relocated to Punjab in India. When I was 12 we came to the UK, to Slough, where there was already a supportive Sikh community. I left school and had a lucrative job in sales. But in 1998, as we were talking about how we should celebrate the 300 Years Anniversary of the founding of our identity, The Khalsa, there was a dreadful war in Kosovo, and many refugees. I suddenly thought that the best way to celebrate was to help out. So we hitched on to a group organising an aid convoy to the refugee camps in Albania, with two truckloads of food and supplies from the Sikh community. That's how Khalsa Aid started. Since then our volunteers have been ready to go to disaster areas anywhere – Haiti, Gujarat, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Libya, wherever. Four years ago we became full-time Khalsa Aid workers, on salaries much lower than those we had in our jobs, but with considerable satisfaction. We call it ‘ever rising spirits' as the work we do lifts us. This is a vision, not a job. Our overheads are minimal.

‘We don't work as most charities do. If, as we did a couple of years ago, we get a really big donation, from a group of people, we insist that they go to one of our sites, like our orphanages in Haiti, and take the donation with them, so they can see where their money's spent. We move into disaster areas and use local suppliers and trucks to transport supplies, liaising with the Rotary Clubs there. That way we know that the goods are getting directly to those people who need them.

‘Burrowbridge was surreal. On February 7th, my wife and I were listening to the radio about the disaster. I had to pull over. I couldn't understand why statutory organisations in this great and wealthy country couldn't hear the emotion or feel the pain of those people. I drove back home and tried to talk to all the agencies. They all told me to leave my contact details and they would get back, but there was no urgency in their response. We finally managed to get in touch with FLAG (Flooding on the Levels Action Group) and a local landlord of the King Alfred pub, Jim Winkworth, our hero, who told us that yes, we were needed, as no one was doing anything. So we drove out there in some 4x4s, with antiseptic supplies, and eventually managed to find our way through. We went for a day, and stayed for over a week. There was so much to do – evacuating people from their homes, making livestock safe, filling sandbags and getting donations of sand and bags. It was non-stop. We were treated like family there. And then we moved to the Thames Valley and started all over again. It was such a blessing to serve our own people. And we keep going back. That floodwater has left hazardous waste behind, even as it recedes, so what do we do now?

"The important message of our religion is that we should work for the "well-being of all". So that's what we do."

National natural disasters can occur anywhere in the world. Some may produce the response epitomised in Ravi Singh, "the only turban in the village" as he describes himself at Burrowbridge, a truly exceptional volunteer who recognises the whole human race as one.
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