KUALA LUMPUR: Being separated from one’s spouse is heartbreaking but it led to Rishiwant Singh Randhawa walking for a good cause. And for his efforts and sacrifices, Rishiwant was picked as one of the 10 winners of the Star Golden Hearts Award 2016.
His wife left him in 2005, taking their daughter with her. This was just after he returned from his first humanitarian mission with the United Sikhs in Aceh, Indonesia to provide aid for those who were devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
“I went through a lot of sadness and depression. I spent around seven to eight hours a day just walking and praying,” said Rishiwant, adding that he did this for about 40 days by the Muar River.
“Walking helped me get rid of my depression as I tried to get it out of my system, while prayer helped me come to terms with what happened and also to forgive and forget.”
After that, he found it easy to walk for eight to 10 hours a day, which inspired him to start his first “Good Will Walk” nine years later in 2014.
“When I heard about Dya Singh, who walked from Kuala Lumpur to Malacca when he was over 60 years old, it blew my mind and I said, ‘why not me?’” Rishiwant said.
The first Good Will Walk saw Rishiwant and five others, including Dya, walking 300km from May 17 to 24 from the Silat Road Gurdwara in Singapore to the Malacca Gurdwara.
They raised nearly RM40,000 in cash and kind for the United Sikhs and Gurpuri Foundation to provide shelter and care for underprivileged children and flood relief work in Kashmir, India.
During the Kelantan floods in 2014, Rishiwant and the United Sikhs got together to distribute nearly 100 tonnes of food and other aid by land and air to 30 villages in the Gua Musang area that were cut off from the main roads. They conducted air drops from Capt Bagawan Singh’s helicopter, courtesy of Helistar Resources.
With the help of the Sikh community, Rishiwant organised another Good Will Walk in 2015, covering a massive 780km over 34 days from Perlis to Malacca, starting on May 24. The walk raised nearly RM130,000.
“It was our first real multi-racial walk across the country as it included orang asli, Chinese, Indians, Punjabis, Malays and also a Briton,” he said.
The walk in 2015 was aimed at raising funds to set up the Malaysia Foodbank Organisation (MFO) to raise RM3.6mil and 200 tonnes of non-perishable food items for the poor and homeless.
“The idea for the MFO came after the floods in Kelantan.
“I felt we needed to be ready with food before disaster struck because it would take at least a week to collect funds. So, we needed a bank for non-perishable food,” he said.
MFO went on to feed 300 orang asli trackers and their families who spent days and nights over nearly two months looking for seven children who were lost in the forest.
“I believed the food helped the trackers keep going because they were assured their families were well fed throughout the search.
“Looking into the eyes of the girls found barely alive after 46 days made it one of our more meaningful missions and made the Good Will Walks worthwhile,” he added.
The money also went to Nanak’s Kitchen, a 16-year-old soup kitchen run by Deep Singh to feed the poor and homeless in Kuala Lumpur.
Rishiwant said the kitchen served between 700 and 800 people every weekend now.
About RM50,000 from this year’s Good Will Walk was also donated to the kitchen to keep it open.
More walks will be organised from January next year, Rishiwant said.
“This time we want to take the homeless from the streets and try to place them in homes where they can receive aid, and also give them about RM150 each to help them cope,” he said.
Besides starting the MFO and Good Will Walks, Rishiwant’s quest to serve humanity has extended to Myanmar, the Philippines and even Macedonia in Europe.
During cyclone Nargis in Myanmar in 2008, Rishiwant and the United Sikhs managed to send US$900,000 worth of food and aid.
He then helped rebuild 100 brick homes and a church for Crossing Lais, a village on Panay Island in the Philippines that was hit by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Earlier this year, Rishiwant went on another mission with the United Sikhs and several other NGOs to Macedonia, enduring temperatures as low as -16°C to feed 50,000 refugees who were fleeing Syria to get to Europe.
Rishiwant, who remarried in June this year, now believes his life is a tool for God to save as many lives as possible and to start as many projects as he can.
“All my life, I was told I was good for nothing as I was unable to finish anything I started.
“Then I met Mother Mangalam who made me realise that my greatest gift was the ability to start, and that someone else would come and complete it,” he said.
This year’s Star Golden Hearts Award is supported by Gamuda. For more articles, go to thestar.com.my/stargoldenheartsaward