How Indian communities stepped up in lockdown New Zealand

As New Zealand has confronted the challenges of this unprecedented crisis, Indian sub-continental community organisations extended their hands to society at large, writes Gaurav Sharma, editor of the Multicultural Times.

This weekend New Zealand is returning to normalcy – sort of – this week, after seven weeks of Covid-19 caused lockdown. Across those weeks, Indian sub-continental community organisations played an important and praise-worthy part in helping New Zealand society through such unprecedented times.

From buying and delivering groceries and other essential items to engaging the seniors, and providing up-to-date information on wage subsidies, mercy flights and immigration matters, the support networks leapt into action.

Whether it was Whangarei, Auckland, Palmerston North, Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Napier; or Wellington, Nelson, Christchurch, Ashburton, or Queenstown, these organisations were everywhere.

The Sikhs of New Zealand: ‘We welcome everyone’

Doing sewa (selfless service) is a central tenet of Sikhism. Sikh Aware NZ (SANZ), which aims to serve New Zealanders and spread awareness about Sikhism in the cause of inter-community harmony, tied up with Whangarei Sikh Society and Deg Tegh Fateh Sikh Society Christchurch, to delivery groceries for free to anyone in need.

For victims of domestic violence, and student and work visa holders who lost their jobs during the pandemic, SANZ, along with the Akhand Kirtani Jatha International NZ, delivered free essential items within 72 hours of someone contacting them via an online form.

A similar initiative was undertaken, and is still ongoing, by the Supreme Sikh Society of New Zealand (SSSNZ), along with the North Shore Sikh Society and Tauranga Sikh Society. Every weekend, their volunteers distributed more than 1,500 bags of groceries, bread and milk, at various locations including the Gurudwara Sri Kalgidhar Sahib Takanini and Otahuhu, Gurudwara Sri Guru Arjan Dev ji Avondale, and Gurudwara Sahib North Shore.

“Overall, we have distributed about 26,500 free food bags from the Gurudwara at Takanini, and a combined total of 10,000 from other places, during this time. We also help the New Zealand Police, Methodist Church and some other social organisations, with a weekly distribution of over 450 food packets,” said Daljit Singh, spokesperson for the SSSNZ. “With winter looming, we will be distributing over 1,000 blankets to the needy, as New Zealand moves to alert level two.”

Other Sikh community organisation that pitched in were Akaal Foundation and Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen Auckland, who collaborated with Sunday Blessings Auckland, to provide free food parcels in the Auckland CBD throughout the lock-down.

Some community sports organisation played their part, too, including New Zealand Sikh Games, which organised the country’s first-ever Sikh games in December last year, and New Zealand Kabadddi Federation.

Moving beyond Auckland, the Canterbury Punjabi Association, Waikato Shaheed-e-azam Bhagat Singh Sports and Cultural Trust and Sikh Sangat NZ Trust along with Gurudwara Sri Amardas Sahib ji in Rotorua provided hundreds of free food bags for the needy during the last six weeks or so.

A common thread among all the above organisations, was their call to help everyone in need regardless of nationality, religion, caste or gender.

Other Indian organisations

A number of other social and religious organisations also came to the fore to help the needy.

Such as Wellington-based Ekta New Zealand, which was founded in 2017 to contribute towards building a more inclusive New Zealand. From April 28 till May 11, Ekta carried out a free food distribution initiative daily at St Peter’s Church. This was in addition to their weekly grocery supply to Downtown Community Ministry, Soup Kitchen, Wellington City Mission and the Wellington Night Shelter.

“And over the course of alert level three, we have distributed over 1,000 free food parcels to migrant workers, students and stranded visitors. This is in addition to the few tonnes of groceries supplied to the four organisations [as above],” noted Abhishek Sharma, Community Outreach Lead at Ekta. Now, the organisation is planning to resume its weekly Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen Wellington, to be held every Saturday, he said.

Others like Auckland-based Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust and BAPS Swaminarayan Sanstha, distributed, what it called COVID-19 Pandemic Kiwi Essentials Care Pack, in collaboration with the Indian High Commission.

Not only about essential items

One grave concern that the lockdown brought was the increased feeling of isolation among the older people in our society. That is all the more pressing among many in minority communities with minimal support networks here in New Zealand, and no life-long friendships to fall back on.

Here, organisations like Shanti Niwas Charitable Trust came up with innovative ideas to keep the seniors in the community engaged. It organised an online fashion show, which saw over 50 people, including some older couples, participating. For the record, Daljit Kaur was the winner of Lockdown Fashion Show 2020.

Nepalese and Pakistani organisations

Other community organisations from the Indian subcontinent such as New Zealand Nepal Society (NZNS) in Auckland and Canterbury Nepalese Society in Christchurch, also distributed food packages in their respective cities, to international students struggling to make ends meet because of the lockdown.

A final mention is for the Pakistan Association of New Zealand (PANZ), which during the course of the lock-down started a new initiative called Power Hour Facebook Live with PANZ. Here, various government representatives, politicians, community leaders, doctors, fitness trainers, and immigration experts, were interviewed on latest Covid-19 related developments.

The show was been very well received by the wider community with a range of local MPs and ministers attending, including Simon Bridges, Michael Wood, Priyanca Radhakrishnan, Jenny Salesa and Carmel Sepuloni, as well as race relations commissioner Meng Liu Foon.

Gratitude

As New Zealand has confronted the challenges of this unprecedented crisis, Indian sub-continental community organisations have extended their hands – both to help those in our own communities and to New Zealand society at large.



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