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Voices On The Ground: Volunteers’ Account During #MalaysiaBanjir’s Relief Efforts

When tragedy strikes, what is evident is that Malaysians rallied each other and together, regardless of race, religion or creed, they helped the stranger in need. A religious institution that has effectively spearheaded and become a flood-relief one-stop centre in Klang Valley is the Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya (GSPJ). We spoke to a couple of volunteers, Lalitha, a new volunteer and Jasleen** a regular volunteer to get their views on their experiences of helping #MalaysiaBanjir flood victims. 

The regular patrons of the Gurdwara sprung into action as soon as the mayday call was made. Volunteers cooked up a storm in the kitchen, preparing and serving free meals (Langgar) to flood victims. Cooking at a large scale is not a one-off thing – which explained the efficiency and swiftness of the team. 

The gurdwara runs food aid very regularly, at least a few times a month. We cook for a couple of thousand people for each meal (on religious days, funerals, feeding the homeless and the poor). This time, it has been just about scaling it larger, to feed more and spread help further. – Jasleen, a regular volunteer at GSPJ

Well-Received Reception

Since the 19th of December, the Gurdwara has been cooking 10,000 meals per day, and to date, 70,000 meals cooked. To meet the immediate basic needs of households affected by the floods, provisions and care packages were also distributed. 

The Gurdwara received praises for opening its doors to everyone regardless of religion and race to aid with flood relief aid. 

We were expecting volunteers that were either Punjabi or Indian. But there were so many more. They were also respectful by covering their head and coming in long pants. – Jasleen, a regular volunteer at GSPJ

Recently, the Gurdwara’s action of allocating a prayer room for Muslims[1] warmed the hearts of many netizens out there. To an extent, some who were interested inquired whether they could volunteer at night.

Many have asked if they can come and volunteer at night after work. We had to turn them away because we didn’t prepare anything at night. – Jasleen, a regular volunteer at GSPJ

A Well-Oiled Machine 

With a larger scale of meal distribution, the Gurdwara had to iron out the details when it came to logistics.

Mainly, we had to try and manage how wide the distribution is. We have a system that we are used to, but it was usually for food and supplies distribution to usual places and shelters.Jasleen, a regular volunteer at GSPJ

For Lalitha, as a new volunteer at the Gurdwara, she was duly impressed at the cohesiveness and proficiency of the team. It was like a well-oiled machine in action. 

When people said it’s well-organised, I had the assumption that they had a proper registration. But the gurdwara had a system that runs its course. Anyone who walked in would fill in the gap either in packing or cutting up fruits.  They are ready to help when you are confused.  – Lalitha, a volunteer at GSPJ

By utilising the existing system at times of crisis, GSPJ could get into the action faster and dispatch help more efficiently. Based on her observation, the key to the system was older volunteers who led the way calmly.

We need to utilise everything we already have, not come up with new things on the spot for things to be efficient. I also learnt a lot from seeing older volunteers taking charge with so much calmness and kindness. – Lalitha, a volunteer at GSPJ

A Lasting Culture 

Gurdwara’s kitchen will be running, especially when natural disasters occur. This automatic response to relief efforts can be adopted and adapted to many organisations. 

Probably in the future, people would skip the initial I don’t know how to help and hit the ground running by asking questions and finding where the need is and filling it. – Jasleen, a regular volunteer at GSPJ

Volunteering isn’t foreign for Lalitha. However, this was her first in helping out for a disaster of this scale. 

I would volunteer again for a crisis similar to this. I was drawn into volunteering at the gurdwara because I understood my capabilities. Cleaning up and rebuilding wasn’t feasible for me, buying and dropping off supplies for the gurdwara was where I could be the most helpful. – Lalitha, a volunteer at GSPJ

Source: Lalitha’s personal archive

To Malaysians who do not have the opportunity to volunteer, there are ways to still be part of the action. Volunteering is not rocket science. There is no special skills or expertise required – instead, the first step is to be informed and to make yourself available to help. 

Just stay up to date, spread posts and donate, donate, donate. Even if it is a small amount or just a few items. Do reach out to centres right before buying to see what they need because needs are always changing. – Jasleen, a regular volunteer at GSPJ

Take a step forward by answering calls for donations and volunteering as they need it now more than ever. Spread the word! Sharing posts on your social media can seem a little redundant at times, but the information may land on the right person who could provide help to those who need it. – Lalitha, a volunteer at GSPJ

Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya is one of the many organisations on the ground assisting the flood victims in the best way possible. Keep up with their progress and needs list at @sikhinside. During a crisis, we witness barriers such as race, religion and nationality trespassed and we come together for a common goal. Help is always needed on the ground and find out how you can contribute to various organisations out there through volunteering or by donating

**Jasleen is the pseudonym of a regular volunteer at Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya. She is more comfortable not having her identity publicised.  The opinions of Jasleen are reflective of her own experience and should not be used as a generalisation. 

Explore our sources:

  1. M.Miranda. (2021). Gurdwara Sahib Petaling Jaya Provides Special Room For Our Muslim Friends To Pray. World Of Buzz. Link 

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