Fully Sikh Compassion: Turbans 4 Australia

Fully Sikh Compassion: the Story of Turbans 4 Australia

Amar Singh is the founder of Turbans 4 Australia. His religion is Sikhism, which is based on the values of respect, equality and help for those in need. Amar thinks community should be wherever people are needed.

Helping farmers. Source: Turbans 4 Australia website

When Amar Singh first came to Australia, he wasn’t a baptised Sikh — he was clean-shaven, and didn’t have a turban or beard.

But after a few run-ins with racism at school, the Liverpool local realised something: “I’m always going to be brown.”

“No matter what I do, I can have tattoos and I can have piercings or whatever, I’m always going to be the brown migrant kid,” he says.

“I thought, if people are gonna like me, they’re gonna like me how I am, I don’t need to fit in. So I started practising my religion and wearing the turban.”

Amar says Sikhism is based on equality, respect and help for people in need. It is this ethos he wants to share with the country he proudly calls home.

Now 39, Amar started his charity, Turbans 4 Australia, in 2015, which has helped out in disasters ranging from bushfires to cyclones, and now the pandemic.

Black Summer Bushfires 2019/20

As my kids grow up, it makes me wonder — what if my son chooses to be a full practising Sikh, with a turban and a beard? Is he going to be called a bad person too?

So that’s part of the reason why I started Turbans 4 Australia, to take away some of that fear and misunderstanding around Sikhs and turbans. To [remind people] — we are just Australians.

One of Turbans 4 Australia’s first projects was helping out drought-stricken farmers in Coonamble, in central New South Wales, back in 2015.

We turned up with seven trucks full of hay, and nobody on that farm left without shaking our hand and saying, “thank you for thinking about us”.

That memory still stays with me, and that’s what really drove me [to continue my work].

In Sikhism we have this notion, it’s called sarbat da bhalla, which means ‘welfare to all’.

Sometimes in religious communities, welfare means within the community, but I think my community is where we live, where our kids go to school. So if there’s anybody that needs us, we should be there. 

Breaking down barriers

One thing I realised after I started wearing the turban was people would link you to terrorists.

I remember around the time of 9/11, I passed this kid walking with his grandma, and he said: “Oh, look, a bad person.”

The pressure of pandemic

COVID has been really different. I think financially, everyone is suffering, including my own business.

I run a trucking business and we have been pretty much shut down since COVID. Last week, we tried doing a couple of shifts, and it didn’t even pay for the fuel in the trucks.

Amar and a female volunteer in front of their truck, wearing masks, handing out food.
Amar Singh and another volunteer handing out food in Blacktown.(Supplied)

Turbans 4 Australia was originally a part-time gig but it is pretty much full time now.

Last week, we did 990 food hampers, and we’ve got the army coming in three days a week to help us. I think in the last two days, 250 more people have registered that they need help. So this week, we’re looking at close to 800, 900 deliveries again.

There is that fear that if I fall sick, it’ll come to my family as well. But safety is our first priority, and we’ve been lucky so far. My son’s eight, and before the strict lockdown, he loved going to projects with me.

Even if we’re just driving to school, if he sees a car broken down, he’ll say: “Aren’t we going to stop and help these people?” So I think what we do reflects on our kids.

He’s already saying: “I’m gonna be the next president of Turbans 4 Australia.” He’ll probably hold a coup.

Source: ABC News Online, https://www.t4a.org.au/our-story/

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