The Melbourne-based non-profit organisation, Sikh Volunteers Australia has been handpicked as one of the Australian Human Rights Heroes for the year 2020 for providing free food to the communities during catastrophic bushfires and the various stages of COVID-19 lockdowns in Victoria.
But that didn’t deter the volunteers at Sikh Volunteers Australia who travelled hundreds of kilometres to deliver cooked meals to communities affected by fires and people living in coronavirus-induced lockdowns.
‘We just knew we had to help’
In an interview with SBS Punjabi, Tejinder Singh Brar, a member of the Sikh Volunteers Australia thanked the Australian Human Rights Commission for acknowledging their efforts.
Sharing about the journey that started with bushfires last year, he said when they started out they didn’t know what was in store for them in the journey, “all we knew was that we wanted to help.”
“When our team got to know about the out-of-control bushfires in the East Gippsland area, our team of volunteers instantly prepared the food and made a decision to go out and help the bushfire-stricken families.,” he said.
We had no idea what to expect on our journey, but we knew we had to help
Mr Singh added that most of their food drives were impromptu during the bushfire season as they didn’t know what lay ahead in some of the worst-affected areas.
“Once while driving down to East Gippsland, our team members tried calling local councils and VicEmergency and eventually managed to get in touch with someone who informed them that a major relief centre was being set up at Bairnsdale,
“So we reached there and parked our van at Bairnsdale City Oval and ran our free food drive from the spot for the next 16 days. That’s how we functioned,” shared Mr Singh.
Once the pandemic struck in March, the volunteers diverted their efforts towards helping people in need of food and other goods during the COVID-prompted restrictions. Since then, the Sikh Volunteers Australia has prepared and delivered more than 400 meals a day to people in need across Melbourne.
“Our team started a free delivery of cooked meals for the needy during the COVID-19 crisis period.
“We started delivering meals from 18 March and ran the programme till 31st of December and have delivered more than 140,000 meals during that period,” said Mr Singh.
This year, the Australian Human Rights Commission has whittled down 10 finalists from a pool of nominations as part of its Human Rights Heroes campaign to recognise the efforts of people and groups who represent the best of humanity and made a tangible difference throughout the year with “hope, kindness and inspiration.”
Announcing the finalists, the Australian Human Rights Commission President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher said: “The ten finalists of our 2020 Human Rights Heroes campaign represent the very best among us.”
“These are people who have fought hard to protect the human rights of others in the community, who have selflessly put others before themselves – often in dangerous situations,” she said.
Frontline workers, community volunteers and a refugee running marathons to fundraise for legal services for fellow refugees are among the 10 finalists of the Commission’s new campaign.