An urge to serve the society pushed Sarbjeet Singh to set up a free canteen for cancer patients, drive a free funeral van for the poor and organize regular blood donation camps to help Shimla’s hospitals.
Popularly known as ‘Bobby ji’, Sarbjeet Singh has been working to uplift and serve the underprivileged people of Himachal Pradesh for years. At a time when even paid drivers were not keen on doing it, this good samaritan volunteered to drive dead body van free of cost for the poor. For the last 10 years, he has also been organising blood donation camps for hospitals, and a couple of years ago, he has started a free canteen for cancer patients and their attendants at Shimla’s only cancer hospital.
Here is the heartwarming story of this hardworking man, who has shown what one inspired individual can achieve when he, or she, sets his/her mind to do it.
Unlike most people, who are pre-occupied with their own lives and responsibilities, Sarbjeet Singh spends so much time in social work that the people who know him affectionately call him ‘Vela Bobby’ – ‘vela’ in Punjabi means someone who does nothing and thus has a lot of time on his hands!
“People in Shimla call me Vela Bobby. Even my mother does the same! It doesn’t offend me. Instead I am thankful that the almighty made me ‘vela’ so that I could spend my time in the service of humanity,” says the man who has made selfless service the mission of his life.
Talking about his experiences in an exclusive interview to TBI, Singh explains how his journey as a dedicated social worker began.
“It all started twelve years back when I used to volunteer with the local gurudwara and help them organise blood donation camps. Over time, the gurudwara gradually stopped organising blood donation camps. However, I decided to continue organising camps on my own.
Shimla, being the capital of Himachal, is where people from all over the state came for treatment. As a result, there is always a shortage of blood in Shimla’s main hospitals – Indira Gandhi Medical College (IGMC) and Kamala Nehru hospital. So, I knew that I had to continue organising these blood donation camps.”
Sarabjeet Singh has been organising blood donation camps every Sunday for over 11 years now and has collected over 20,000 units of blood for Shimla’s hospitals. All the blood banks in the state have his phone number and know they can rely on him in case of an emergency.
For the past eight years, Singh has also been running a free 24×7 funeral van service to help the dead in their final journey, be it night or day. He has never refused a call, even at odd hours, to transport a dead body to the cremation ground if the vehicle is with him. He has even transported badly decomposed bodies, lying unclaimed at the hospital mortuaries, for the last rites by the Shimla Municipal Corporation.
Explaining that the idea came to him when he saw that even government-run hospitals lacked this facility, Singh says,
“Back then, cremation and burial grounds used to be pretty far from the hospitals which had no vehicle for transporting dead bodies. As a result, many families used to find it difficult to transport the dead bodies for their last rites. Also, after 5 pm, the people were helpless as there was no facility in town to help them do this.
Since I also like driving, I decided to lend a helping hand by driving a funeral van (run by the local Guru Nanak Sewa Society) to ferry bodies 24 x 7 and free of cost. In 2012, with help from citizens, I bought my own crowdfunded van for the free service. Till date, I have ferried more than 5,000 bodies.
While it is a macabre job, the experiences I have had while driving the funeral van have taught me many things. I still remember the time when I ferried a 9-year old girl’s body to her distraught mother’s home. It was the first time I had truly realised the importance of my job and it just strengthened my resolve to continue my service. I felt perhaps God himself had given me this duty. Soon after, I started my NGO, Almighty Blessings. “
In 2014, under the banner of his NGO, Almighty Blessings, Sarbjeet Singh started a free canteen for poor patients and their attendants at Shimla’s only cancer hospital. He says,
“I realised that people from all over the state, some from really remote places, visited this cancer hospital and it didn’t even have a canteen to serve them! Some of them are so poor that they can’t even afford medicines for the treatment, let alone food. That’s when I decided to do something about this.
The free canteen I opened started out by offering tea and biscuits for free to patients and their attendants. I wanted to ensure that everyone of them at least got a cup of hot tea in the cold mornings of Shimla. Today, I am very happy to say that the canteen now serves tea, biscuits, soup, daliya and dal-chawal for free to the patients and their attendants every day.”
In 2016, Singh’s NGO, Almighty Blessings, also started another free canteen at Shimla’s largest hospital, Kamala Nehru Hospital.
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Other than the canteen, five Chapati banks have also been started at Sanjauli, Totu, Kasumpati, Lakkar bazaar and Lower Bazar to collect fresh chapattis everyday (from volunteer families who make 10 chapattis each) and to serve the people who sometimes even don’t have enough money for buying medicines too. A one-of-a-kind service in the state, Singh’s free canteens are a huge respite for the patients and attendants, especially the poor, who are already bogged down with the cost of treatment.
Singh has also provided a platform to people who wish to sponsor the food for the needy on their birthdays and anniversaries. He now plans to build a free shelter for patients and their attendants. Asked how he manages the expenses of his won family, Singh smiles, as he says,
“I run a small shoe business that earns enough for my family, who have always supported me in my philanthropic ventures.”
In 2015, a Facebook post written by a friend about Singh’s social service went viral, garnering over 2 lakh likes and 10000 shares in 24 hours. Talking about it, the humble man says,
“Those who liked the post did not do it because of my picture, they did so because they appreciated the cause I had been working for. So, when I got calls of appreciation from all over the world, I asked them to connect with my cause instead of me. In whichever city or town they were in, I requested them to try and distribute food, at the very least tea, to patients at the nearest public hospital whenever possible. “
At the age of 40, when most people his age are busy eking out a living for themselves and their families, Singh is working tirelessly to provide solace to both, the living and the dead.
With winter arriving in Shimla, he is now busy organising a clothes donation drive for poor patients and construction workers who otherwise have to battle the bitter cold every night. Its little wonder that this extraordinary man is extended family for all the citizens of Shimla.
Asked if there is a message he would like to give to his fellow countrymen, Sarbjeet Singh says that he truly believes the satisfaction one may not get in the biggest of temples can be found in the service of the poor. He ends by saying,
“I am just an ordinary person and every person can be like me. My only thought and desire is that there should not be just one Sarbjeet, instead every corner of India should have someone willing to uplift the underprivileged. Just donating to religious institutions is not enough; it doesn’t always reach those it is intended for. Instead make time to work in the field so that your help reaches those who need it directly. The poor you meet at hospitals are those who really need your help, so I request all of you to help them in whichever way you can.”
For more details about his amazing initiatives, Sarbjeet Singh can be contacted through his Facebook page. His mobile number is 9418061000.