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Sukhmeet Singh Sachal in an interview with OMNI Television

by Haroon Ghaffar and Nandika Ravi

Sukhmeet Singh Sachal,  a 26 year-old medical student from Surrey, felt the people at his local Gurdwara (Sikh temple) weren’t adhering to basic public health guidelines, like wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing. He feared that his community wasn’t taking the COVID-19 crisis seriously, leading to faster transmission of the virus in the community.

“When I visited the temple a few weeks ago I saw that most people weren’t wearing masks. As a public health professional and a med student, I felt compelled to do something about the situation,” Sachal told OMNI’s reporter Haroon Ghaffar.

“Health and safety guidelines on the news have mostly been in English, but not in Hindi or Punjabi and that’s where me and my team come in.”

With funding from the Clinton Foundation and Canada Service Corporation, Sachal started an awareness campaign. The idea was to instill the need to take necessary precautions against COVID-19 amongst temple devotees, especially the elderly. Key tasks included distributing masks and educating people on public health measures during a pandemic in a culturally appropriate way.

Sachal and his team of over 100 volunteers have been meeting visitors at the entrance of Gurudwaras, where, separated by Plexiglas, they talk and instruct them on proper handwashing techniques in Hindi, Punjabi and English. Another issue Sachal noticed was that people who grew facial hair due to religious reasons, either didn’t have a mask on or were wearing them incorrectly.

Volunteers hand out masks at the Gurudwara| Photo Credits: OMNI Television

“We teach them how to safely secure their facial hair while wearing a mask,” Sachal said.

“We distribute these reusable pieces of cloth for free, to anyone who needs them. We talk to people on the importance of wearing a mask, not only to protect themselves but also the people around them.”

The most challenging task for Sachal was to implement physical distancing among devotees at the temple. Even after placing signs and stickers in Punjabi and English, the message wasn’t getting through to people who were uneducated or didn’t know how to read.

Sachal with the physical signs| Photo credits- OMNI Television

 

” I wanted to make it more culturally relevant, so I created an info-graphic of two people unfurling a turban, and holding onto the ends of the cloth, keeping them six feet apart,”Sachal said.

Ever since Sachal started this campaign, the demand for expansion has been growing across Canada. He says that he has seen significant behavioral changes among people. They make sure to wear a mask or borrow one at the Gurudwara and are much more aware of keeping a distance from other people while offering prayers.