Nishkam SWAT started ten years ago as a youth club in Southall with no more than 20 members. Now with more than 1,000 volunteers, they work seven days a week handing out food to those in need across the world
Image: Nishka SWAT)
Along a bustling road in Camden, a team of Sikh volunteers set up their makeshift cafe.
Armed with a host of drinks and meals, Randeep Singh and his team begin their daily task of handing out free meals.
They are visited by a variety of people – some in need of food, some wanting company, and some who are simply curious.
In just an hour they run out of all food and drink.
This is not unusual for the team, who serve in 21 locations around the country – 28 times a week.
What has become a massive operation of kindness started with a chance encounter.
In 2009, whilst working at a youth centre, Mr Singh struck up a conversation with some rough sleepers.
“We came across a couple of homeless people and we said we wanted help. They said that it’s not just the two of us. There’s over 200 of us,” he explains.
Many were immigrants, forced on the streets with no prospect of finding a job.
So Mr Singh set up Nishkam SWAT (Sikh Welfare & Awareness Team) to help the “forgotten community” of homeless people in Southall, London.
“From 2009 to 2012 in Southall, we served over 300 people every night. There were different people. Immigrants from India, Pakistan, even Europe who couldn’t find work. Some were battling alcohol and drug addictions and mental health issues,” he told the Mirror.
For the first four years the SWAT team had just ten volunteers. Now the charity has more than 1,000 people supporting them serving people all around the world from Oxford to Argentina.
To many, it may look like the Nishkam SWAT team are doing a job only a saint would do, but they say it is part of their faith.
“Two reasons. One is to serve humanity. And the second is it’s one of the tenets of our faith to serve humanity. It’s part of our faith. We are not trying to recruit members to join the Sikh faith”, he said.
He added: “The Sikhs’ role on the planet is to serve others. I’ve got a duty to protect. I exist to serve others.”
Though food is at the heart of what the team do, they go beyond just feeding those in need.
They also provide some money simply can’t buy – community.
“This type of service where we give out food really is a lifeline for many vulnerable people,” explained Tony Shergill, team leader for the Camden group.
“But a lot of the people, some of them just want companionship, someone to talk to, in addition to the food. So we offer a multi-layered service.
“We give them food but also conversation. And you start to hear their story and what they’ve been through and it’s devastating.”
The team’s most recent expedition saw them fly into Lviv in Ukraine, providing emergency assistance to civilians affected by the ongoing conflict.
With an army of medical vans and food and toiletries, the team set about helping all they could be deeply impacted by the ongoing Russian military raid in Ukraine.
“We had big crates of resources, food, toiletries, everything. So many people were in need, so so many people,” Mr Singh said.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.