cross-border issues

Border-village evacuation: Khalsa Aid volunteers step up to fill gaps in official services

The Sikh humanitarian organisation has provided aid around the world, most recently to refugees in Greece.

On September 30, a group of young men from Patiala realised it was time to head to the border.

“We were watching the news, and saw that villages were being asked to evacuate,” said Amarpreet Singh, a former commercial pilot. “We knew that they’d need help, so we left. It was as simple as that.”

Singh, 27, was accompanied by three more men from Patiala. They were soon joined by more from Jalandhar, Chandigarh and Amritsar. The group of 15 were volunteers with the international Sikh humanitarian group, Khalsa Aid.

In the wake of the Indian government's surgical strikes along the Line of Control on Thursday morning, 15 lakh villagers living 10 km from the border in Punjab had been asked to leave their homes. It was feared that tension with Pakistan could congeal into a spate of international hostilities.

While the Punjab government has made arrangements for people leaving border villages at gurudwaras and schools outside the 10 km boundary mandated by the army, most villagers can’t make it that far. “Obviously, they want to stay as close to their homes as possible, because they go back every day to tend to their fields,” said Gurpreet Singh, 23.

Fostering community

Singh said he joined Khalsa Aid two years ago because he felt it his duty as a Sikh "to do something for the community". For Khalsa Aid volunteers, "community" refers literally, to the entire world – the group’s mission statement is inspired by the words of Guru Gobind Singh: “Recognise the whole human race as one."

In recent years, Khalsa Aid and its CEO, the serene Ravi Singh, have led volunteer groups to assist rescue operations all over the world, most notably in Greece, where they rescued refugees arriving by boats from the Middle East, provided food, water, clothes, medicines, translators and helped local authorities identify vulnerable groups like women and unaccompanied minors.

In India, according to Amarpreet Singh, the head of Khalsa Aid’s national team, there are at least 20,000 volunteers, the majority of whom are from Punjab.

“My first project was in Gujarat after the earthquake, after which I worked in Uttarakhand, and then in Nepal – where we built over 15,000 homes,” he said.

At present, Amarpreet Singh is overseeing the initiative to help the internally displaced population from Amritsar, Tarn Taran, Ferozepur, Fazilkot and Pathankot.

“The biggest problem right now is hunger,” he said. “When my team arrived here, the tractors were leaving their villages at night, and no one had eaten.”

On the first night in Ferozepur, Khalsa Aid volunteers scraped a meal together by gathering food from all the gurdwaras they could find. As of Saturday, they have begun buying their own supplies, and cooking fresh food outside the camp. As more young people from nearby cities arrive at the spot, offering to volunteer their services, Amarpreet Singh is sending out teams to assess the condition at neighbouring border villages of Tarn Taran, Fazilkot and Pathankot.

Long-term plan

Still, Singh acknowledges that his work can't solve the problem. “We can feed them and find them shelter for as long as they need but the government needs to have a plan," he said. "You can’t just ask people to leave their homes, with no idea of where to send them."

While most villages he has visited are deserted,the volunteers say that some still have old or sick people that are unable to leave. One village in particular, is surrounded by water on three sides, and of the few that made it across by boat, most villagers have had to leave all their belongings behind.

“The next thing we are trying to do is set up a transport helpline,” Amarpreet Singh said. “People who say Punjab has made progress need to come here and see the truth with their own eyes."

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

The cost of setting up an employee-friendly office in Mumbai

And a new age, cost-effective solution to common grievances.

A lot has been theorised about employee engagement and what motivates employees the most. Perks, bonuses and increased vacation time are the most common employee benefits extended to valuable employees. But experts say employees’ wellbeing is also intimately tied with the environment they spend the bulk of the day in. Indeed, the office environment has been found to affect employee productivity and ultimately retention.

According to Gensler’s Workplace Index, workplace design should allow employees to focus, collaborate, learn and socialise for maximum productivity, engagement and overall wellbeing. Most offices lag on the above counts, with complaints of rows of cluttered desks, cramped work tables and chilled cubicles still being way too common.

But well-meaning employers wanting to create a truly employee-centric office environment meet resistance at several stages. Renting an office space, for example, is an obstacle in itself, especially with exorbitant rental rates prevalent in most business districts. The office space then needs to be populated with, ideally, ergonomic furniture and fixtures. Even addressing common employee grievances is harder than one would imagine. It warrants a steady supply of office and pantry supplies, plus optimal Internet connection and functioning projection and sound systems. A well-thought-out workspace suddenly begins to sound quite cost prohibitive. So, how can an employer balance employee wellbeing with the monthly office budget?

Co-working spaces have emerged as a viable alternative to traditional workspaces. In addition to solving a lot of the common problems associated with them, the co-working format also takes care of the social and networking needs of businesses and their employees.

WeWork is a global network of workspaces, with 10 office spaces in India and many more opening this year. The co-working giant has taken great care to design all its premises ergonomically for maximum comfort. Its architects, engineers and artists have custom-designed every office space while prioritising natural light, comfort, productivity, and inspiration. Its members have access to super-fast Internet, multifunction printers, on-site community teams and free refreshments throughout the day. In addition, every WeWork office space has a dedicated community manager who is responsible for fostering a sense of community. WeWork’s customised offerings for enterprises also work out to be a more cost-effective solution than conventional lease setting, with the added perks of WeWork’s brand of service.

The video below presents the cost breakdown of maintaining an office space for 10 employees in Vikhroli, Mumbai and compares it with a WeWork membership.

Play

To know more about WeWork and its office spaces in India, click here.

This article was produced by Scroll marketing team on behalf of WeWork and not by the Scroll editorial team.