When Harjas Singh Popli and his family first arrived in Canada, they brought with them a long-standing belief that it was their duty to help others.
These days they are faithful to that belief by operating a non-profit charity that provides food and other necessities of life to those who need it.
But providing that help hasn’t always been easy.
In the beginning, their organization, named Fateh Care (a name which comes from the Sikh word for victory) was often viewed with suspicion.
“When we started people would often be suspicious,” Harjas said. “They’d look at me and think, ‘Who is this guy with a turban asking me for my name, address and phone number?’”
Harjas acknowledges that, at least in part, that suspicion came about as conscious and unconscious biases based on race came into play.
“People had a hard time believing that we were willing to provide them with food and other necessities of life, just because they asked for it, with no strings attached.”
Still, Harjas and his wife, Naveet Kaur Popli, persevered, dedicating 10 per cent of everything they had to helping others. They never asked for any form of payment or donation and never even spoke to the recipients of the help beyond giving them a smile.
“We all have our biases,” said Naveet. “We have always made it clear that we ask for nothing in return.”
The idea for Fateh Care came about as the Saanich family faced its own challenges after arriving in Canada from India in 2020, just in time for the COVID-19 epidemic.
They all contracted the disease, and, for a year, Harjas found himself unable to earn money in his career as an HR professional. And, even though Naveet had started her job as an associate professor at the University of Victoria, she too was housebound.
They reached out to charities for help in feeding their family and found that no organization existed that would bring food to their home.
It was a huge failing in the existing services and it’s a gap that Harjas and Naveet resolved to bridge as they created Fateh Care as a charity that would respond to requests for help by delivering food and other necessities directly to people’s homes.
It seemed like a natural thing to do, and it was consistent with the family’s history of giving back to their community.
“In India, we always made certain that we gave back to the community. We sponsored girls who were orphans or from poor families and made sure they had got their education and a better life,” said Harjas.
Naveet explained that giving back to the community is simply a duty that they freely accept.
“Everything is based upon our religion. Whatever we have is what God has given us and if we have extra, we have to give that back to others,” Naveet said.
“We will get our own blessings, but we have to help those people in need. It’s our duty.”
Hajas offered an example of blessings being passed on as he spoke about a young man who had called for help after sustaining a back injury that prevented him from working or getting out to a food bank.
“He repairs bicycles, and he said that if I ever come across someone who needs a bike, he would gladly donate one to help another person,” Harjas said.
“You see, that’s how it spreads. What we do is like one candle lighting another that goes on to light another.”
Part of the charity’s success lies in the fact that they ask very few questions of those who call, looking for help.
“You’ve shown the courage to ask for help. That’s enough … helping has to be simple. Let the government do their thing to make things complex. Charity shouldn’t be complex at all,” Harjas said.
“That (complexity) comes because of suspicion – from people looking for hidden motivation for those giving and those taking. It’s not who we are.”
Harjas is quick to credit his parents for instilling his beliefs about helping others and gratefully acknowledges the support of others in the community like MLA Grace Lore.
“Kindness is something that we’re passing on to our children and to the community. It has a way of spreading. That’s the whole idea.”