An evening with The NishkamSWAT Charity
W Bro Saranjit Singh Bassan SLGR, SLGCR
4.30pm on Monday and it is a typical cold, rainy, winter evening. I’m tired, it has been a busy day at work and on any other workday I would be heading home, some half an hour away, my evening starting with a nice hot cuppa.
Monday evenings are different, however. I am heading to the Headquarters and warehouse of NishkamSWAT - Kiran House in Hayes, Middlesex - a journey of about 45 minutes. The traffic report mentions a couple of incidents on the route. I am hoping these do not delay me as it’s important I arrive by 5.15pm.
As I drive, I remember my concern a few months ago about the fate of the homeless - especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, and how I could help them. Our masonic activities being suspended, I decided to speak to a couple of charities for the homeless in London, which I had previously raised funds for. To my delight I found out that NishkamSWAT was playing an active role during this pandemic and that I could channel my masonic energies through them. I volunteered my services, was “checked” and attended a detailed induction course via Zoom!
NishkamSWAT is a charitable organisation based in the UK. Their primary function is to unite and transform financially disadvantaged communities by focusing on projects which make a difference to people’s lives and improve their prospects.
NishkamSWAT (Niskham Sikh Welfare and Awareness Team - simply known as SWAT) is a 100% voluntary humanitarian-aid organisation founded in 2008 by Randeep Lall, a young Sikh in West London. Now CEO, his first project involved setting up a youth club offering regular workshops on substance awareness and encouraging the children to engage in group discussions and debates on current issues such as gang culture, drug addiction and alcohol abuse.
In 2009, they discovered over 200 men sleeping rough on the streets of Southall and established the Homeless Project where they go out to different areas of the UK to feed the less fortunate. Today it has grown into a truly national and international effort, serving many thousands of meals for the homeless every year and providing other basic commodities like sleeping bags, toothbrushes, etc.
Now the charity looks after the immediate needs of the street homeless, serving at least 5,000 meals a week in 24 locations in the UK and two locations internationally. Meals are served 32 times a week based on the concept of Langar (Free Community Kitchen) through their faith-based values of love, truth, compassion, forgiveness, contentment and humility. In between, they have established many more projects.
The charity works on the ethos and teachings of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the first Guru of the Sikhs:
- Naam Japna, remembering God.
- Kirat Karni, earning an honest living.
- Vand Kay Shako, selflessly serving others, sharing income and resources.
One outreach location at London’s Trafalgar Square, sees on some nights at least 350 meals being served, five times a week. During these unprecedented “COVID-19” times, the charity has seen an increase in service users – necessitating increases in the amount of food, refreshments, clothing blankets and sleeping bags being provided.
At the headquarters I see some volunteers already loading the SWAT van and I help them load up the packs of non-perishable items. Once loaded, we are on our way to The Strand in London - our team leader and driver today is Sohan Shinger, whose daytime job is as an IT Manager.
We make a stop en route at the factory of Noon Foods, who every Monday supply the hot meals. Today it is Penne al'arrabiata. SWAT does not have its own kitchens and the hot meals are supplied by vetted manufacturers, ensuring the food is compliant with all legal cooking and hygiene requirements. We collect two large crates of pasta, enough to provide 300 meals. We reach the Strand at 7.30pm.
It is still cold with a light drizzle and we see a meal queue of about a hundred or so waiting. The van is quickly unloaded and portable tables set up. Safety barriers are positioned to control the flow of people and speed up serving. Every volunteer knows their place and duty - today my role is security and I will also take some official photographs. In between I help to serve the food.
We prepare disposable closed containers of pasta and hand them out with the packs of non-perishables. Every volunteer is wearing a mask and gloves for personal safety and good hygiene.
We have an altercation, one of the people in the queue is being disorderly and causing a disturbance to the others. The police are called, and it’s dealt with quickly, everyone else is good natured, despite being cold and wet.
By 9pm we have served 250 meals and there is no one else waiting to be served. We start our repacking and clean-up operation. Sohan and I get out the bin bags and clear every item of rubbish on the ground around our serving area. SWAT is well known to leave a location cleaner than when they arrived. The volunteers all have a smile on their faces.
We head back to SWAT Headquarters. On the way my thoughts wander to Guru Nanak Dev Ji who, some five hundred years ago, started the concept of Nishkam - an action for which one has no desire for reward of any sort, much in line with my masonic principles! Freemasonry and Sikhism have much in common, this commonality was one of the key factors that led me to becoming a Freemason. Compassion and charity are the foundations of Sikhism, so becoming a Freemason was a natural progression for me to become a better human. My journies in Sikhism and Freemasonry are completely in tune with each other. For every minute I spend at The Strand as a Sikh, and as a Freemason, performing my Nishkam service, is a blessing from The Great Architect of The Universe.
We make a stop at Noon Foods to thank them and to give them back their empty crates. We finally get back to SWAT headquarters, unload the van and give it a good clean. It’s 10.30pm and although it’s still cold and raining, I jump into my car with a warm feeling that today I have done my duty as a Sikh and as a Freemason. I am looking forward to my cuppa and next Monday!
In addition to the daily meal distribution in the UK, NishkamSWAT, via its medical teams, has been involved in vaccinating the homeless against COVID-19. SWAT is delighted to share the news that on Monday 19th April 2021 they hosted their first COVID-19 Vaccination Service for the homeless and undocumented migrants – undertaken in partnership with the NHS, The Connection at St Martin's, and Westminster Council.
Those who are homeless are much more likely to have physical or mental health conditions which put them at a higher risk from the harms of COVID-19. This is a known public health issue (worldwide).‘Regardless of legal status, everyone should have the right to a vaccine.’ said Randeep Lall, CEO of NishkamSWAT.
Dr Manpreet Bains, NeoHealth Primary Care Network said, 'As local GPs we are working hard to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake by partnering with community organisations like NishkamSWAT. We know that those living homeless or in areas of high deprivation are at greater risk, so this was a valuable opportunity to deliver the vaccine to those in need.'
This article is part of the Arena Magazine, Issue 45 July 2021 edition.
Arena Magazine is the official magazine of the London Freemasons - Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Metropolitan Grand Chapter of London.
Read more articles in the Arena Issue 45.
READ ARENA 45 HERE