Amarjit Singh Bansal, Chartered FCSI, risks his own safety to help persecuted women and girls in disaster-stricken territories
by Lora Benson MCIPR, CISI head of media
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Amarjit is in the business of helping people, whether that be through his day job as a personal injury and court of protection (PICOP) independent financial adviser with the Leeds office of Chase de Vere, or through his voluntary work with charity Khalsa Aid International (KAI).
His day job involves “delivery of financial security” to clients who have sustained serious personal injury, who may be in the pre or post settlement phase. “It is not only about the investment or planning that takes place, but what you do for the client and how you do it can have a direct impact on their wellbeing,” he says.
His voluntary work with KAI is based on its key Sikh principle to ‘Recognise the whole of the human race as one’. KAI is a UK-based humanitarian disaster relief charity providing support globally to victims of natural and man-made disasters such as floods, earthquakes, famine and war. The team is often first on the scene to help distribute food, water, clothing, medical and sanitation supplies. They also fund and build semi-permanent shelters.
Amarjit first volunteered with KAI in 2011, going on a humanitarian aid mission to Kenya. “At the time, there was a major drought in Somalia, with many refugees crossing the border, entering camps in and around Dadaab in Kenya. Our initial aim was to assist refugees crossing into Kenya, but we discovered that much aid was already entering the region to support this group, and it was the locals living and working in the region who were being neglected. We delivered over 100 tonnes of aid to local schools, orphanages and camps.”
"If we truly believed in humanity, we really would recognise the whole human race as one"
As well as supporting projects in Africa, India, Turkey, Lebanon, Haiti, Bangladesh and Yemen, KAI is involved in support closer to home: “Our team has helped UK residents cope with devastating floods, and we were there to support the families who escaped the horrific fire at Grenfell Tower in London.”
Amarjit has made several trips to northern Iraq (Kurdistan) to assist women and children from the Yezidi community “during the height of the offensive in Kurdistan by coalition forces against Daesh/ISIS”. Length of stays vary “depending on demand and the security situation”. Amarjit helps establish a team, source materials, food and arrange the logistics of delivery. “I have assessed the security situation/risks for our volunteers, local staff and those we work with. I have also established contacts at a local and regional level with the authorities. It is truly a team effort.”
Amarjit and the team have supported Yezidi girls and women who have been subjected to forced marriage and sexual slavery by Daesh and who have subsequently escaped and returned to their communities: “At one point we were supporting about 650 girls and their families with monthly food supplies. Many had been wearing the same clothes since capture, or clothes given to them by their kidnappers. As a result, we started Project Dignity, whereby KAI volunteers take girls who have just returned from capture/slavery shopping to local clothes stores, with a budget of US$50 each, so they can buy clothes of their choice.
“We’ve also helped these women support their families by setting up micro-businesses. One of the first girls to escape capture had an interest in photography, so KAI purchased a camera and helped her through local contacts to sell her photos.”
Amarjit and the team face personal safety dangers and health issues in some of these territories. One of the biggest challenges is the transfer of funds to aid centres. “Understandably, governments and financial institutions are very cautious about where, how and to whom they allow charities to transfer money.”
Amarjit has seen the best and worst of human behaviour in his time with the charity. Humour can be a superb coping mechanism, he says. “Once I was in a situation where a desperate crowd surrounded myself and the team, asking for additional food packages. I shouted for our driver in Kurdish, wanting some reinforcements, and could not understand why everyone laughed. It turns out that I had mispronounced the driver’s name and referred to him as a donkey!”
While KAI’s key principle is part of Sikh ideology, the charity’s work is not restricted to the Sikh community. “Donations and volunteers come globally from all communities and faiths,” says Amarjit. He believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to do what they can to make humanity and the environment better, and derives satisfaction from knowing he’s helped a mother feed her children or helped restore a seven-year-old girl’s self-esteem.
“If we truly believed in humanity, we really would recognise the whole human race as one,” he says.
This article is from the October 2019 print edition of The Review. The print edition is available to all members who opt in to receive it, except student members. All eligible members who would like to receive future editions in the post should log in to MyCISI, click on My Account/Communications and set their preference to 'Yes'.