Humanitarian work has always been a huge passion of mine. Ever since I could remember, I always talked about why it was important to work with the community at a grassroots level and wanting to travel to places where I could help people that were struggling; and sharing their stories.
When I was approached by Khalsa Aid’s trustee, Indy Hothi, earlier this year about this incredible opportunity to document the work of Khalsa Aid in Haiti – I knew I couldn’t resist. This was everything I dreamed of! To go and provide aid / seva (selfless service) for the orphanages and being able to document it was something I’ve always wanted to do. I knew however, it was going to be a lot of work to make it happen. They found it important to have a Sikh female filmmaker to document it to encourage youth from the community, especially females, to get involved. I was allowed to bring one other volunteer and decided to bring my best friend, Gurkiran Sidhu, who is also my associate for some of the projects I am working on (including Jangiiro x ਕੇਰੇ kurthé).
Within 8 weeks, while working full-time and travelling, we had to come up with different strategies on how to fundraise. Luckily enough, I had experience prior fundraising for the organizations I was apart of. Gurkiran and I released a vlog that explained thoroughly why we were going and why it was important on my YouTube channel. I decided to work with artists Rupi Kaur and Anoop Caur to host writing / paint workshops, work with Jasmeet Singh (JusReign) on a ‘Dares JusReign for Haiti’ campaign where people would donate to dare Jasmeet to do whatever they wanted and we would choose the top three in a video which we had released online. Gurkiran and I decided to sell our clothing where all proceeds would go towards the initiative too. I also worked with local media to spread more awareness and of course social media campaigns to keep our internet friends engaged!
Hearing the conditions of Haiti and the amazing work Khalsa Aid has been doing made me realize how big this opportunity really was. Khalsa Aid is a international, non-profit, humanitarian organization based out of the UK, providing aid and relief to places that have been affected by war, disasters and corruption. Currently, they are providing ongoing support in different countries including: Lebanon, Nepal, Punjab, Malawi, Uganda, Iraq, Yemen, Myanmar, and of course, Haiti. They recently have set-up projects in Croatia and Serbia to help out the refugee crisis that is happening in Europe.
Khalsa Aid has been in Haiti for the past 5 years and have volunteers going every 3-4 months to provide food, water and any necessities the 9 orphanages they support may need. Most organizations that were helping out after the 2010 earthquake had left after 2-3 years of being there.The reason they found it important to have it documented was to show that Haiti is still in desperate need of help. Once the cameras shut-off and all the journalists and media moved on, everyone had forgotten the struggles the Haitians are still going through. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world right now. Everything, from tooth-brushes to food is being imported by the U.S. to Haiti. Statistics say that more than 60% of the country is unemployed and the remainder that are working are making approx. $2/day. The price of food is more expensive than people’s income. Most of the kids that were in the orphanage weren’t only there because they had lost their families to the earthquake, but had parents that literally couldn’t afford to take care of them.
Hearing all of this vs. actually experiencing it were two different levels of emotions. I could only tell you so much of how difficult it is to witness that much poverty – but to actually experience it is a different story. The first day, was by far, the toughest. We had traveled for 16 hours to reach our final destination – Léogâne, Haiti. The next morning, myself, and two other volunteers (Indy and Kanwar) left the hotel we were staying at to the first orphanage of the day, ‘Le Sourire Retrouve Orphanage’ whom heard of Khalsa Aid through another orphanage KA was supporting. They ended up being the 9th orphanage KA took on to support during that trip – which was amazing to witness and I got the chance to document. This orphanage had not had clean water for the past 8 months.
I honestly couldn’t believe what I was hearing. This orphanage was so small, build up on shacks and tents, hosting over 30 kids, and they hadn’t had clean water for past 8 months?! Berlin, the owner of the orphanage, had to travel for miles everyday, so she could get some clean water for the kids. One thing that I admired about KA was that they worked with the locals – in this case, the local contractors to get a new water pump for the orphanage. I found it so difficult to immediately start documenting, and felt almost wrong doing so. What I found very challenging was taking out the camera and start filming when I knew it wasn’t my own struggle.
Documenting someone else’s pain is by far the most difficult thing I had to deal with. I had recognized my privilege to another extent and it was honestly, so emotionally draining. I remember coming back to the hotel after that, and breaking down to Gurkiran, who had asked me how my day went. I just felt so disappointed in myself for being so upset, but didn’t know how to handle all the overwhelming emotions. The second orphanage was the toughest. We all went in our Langar Aid shirts (which basically signifies that we were providing free food to those in need), and went to the local supermarket to pick up food. The shop owner, Lovely, had provided us with everything we had on the list that included, rice, beans, pasta, etc.
When we entered the second orphanage, the kids literally JUMPED on me! They were so happy to see me. But who was I? I didn’t want to feel like ‘another’ visitor. I wanted to make sure I spent enough time with these kids. They were so amazing. They loved the camera, were posing for the pictures, eating the chips we gave them with crumbs all over their mouths. As we were leaving, one of the girls I was carrying wouldn’t let go and started to cry out loud. Another one holding another volunteer started to scream. It was so hard to watch. I just couldn’t deal with it at first. How can I just film these kids, who literally have nothing? How can I just walk away from them, knowing that I might not ever see them again? These were some of the questions that were burdening me that first day. Luckily, the KA volunteers understood that I should get used to seeing how everything was first, test the waters and then take out the camera when I was ready to film.
And I think that was what made it easier. As we went off to the rest of the orphanages, we would spend time with the kids and talk to the owners to understand some of the stories the kids had. Language was obviously a barrier (my Canadian French was useless lol) but we had our KA Haiti volunteer Marcson, who was our driver, our security and our translator (pretty much we wouldn’t be able to live without him ha!). Dancing with the kids was my best way of communicating with them. We would have the music play out of the car stereo and the kids literally would open up and start dancing. That honestly uplifted my spirit. Seeing that these kids have nothing, literally nothing, but are so intrigued by our presence, getting the little attention that they crave and are so thankful for every moment, was so inspirational. I would manifest in their youthful energy. They were just so much fun to be around. Just holding their hands, we would share such a powerful connection that didn’t need any words to describe. It was unreal. And definitely unforgettable.
Seeing how positive and grateful the kids were made me recognize my privilege and how fortunate we truly are in the west. Our problems seem so mediocre and not even comparable when it comes to what these people have to deal with. However, as much it’s something I struggle to understand; why we live our lives the way we do and why they have to endure so much trauma; it makes me want to use this privilege to my advantage. To be able to share their stories, to provide assistance as much as we can, and to bring attention to the issues they may be facing motivates me to continue the work I do. It is the most rewarding feeling to see how little you do can literally change someone else’s life. That for me will always be my inspiration and strive to rise. It gives me so much life, it keeps me alive. They give to me more than I can ever give to them. And I thank the Haitians and Khalsa Aid for being so hospitable, for taking care of us, for sharing with us, and for trusting me to tell their story.
The documentary currently is the works and looking to screen at different events // film festivals throughout the next few months until we decide to release it publicly. If you are looking to get involved, please contact Khalsa Aid : firstname.lastname@example.org . If you are looking to screen the film in your city: email@example.com