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Sydney-based Harinder Kaur was named 2021 Woman of the Year at the Blacktown City Council’s International Women’s Day breakfast on Monday, March 8. She was recognised for her outstanding contributions to the community through the Harman Foundation and the Department of Communities and Justice where she currently works as a co-ordinator providing educational services to inmates.
Rewind to the early ‘90s, when the real-life ‘social justice warrior’ migrated to Australia, Harinder was an active participant in community circles and immersed herself in social engagements. At one point, she even had her own platinum Punjabi bhangra group.
Life was going very well for Harinder and her family until tragedy struck in 2012. She lost her eldest son, Harmanpreet Singh, in a car accident.
Shocked, Harinder could not cope with the sudden loss of her son.
However, through the power of the internet, she found support in the form of compassionate people within the community who were struggling with loss themselves.
It was during this trying time that she had an epiphany.
“A seed began growing in my mind,” Harinder revealed to Indian Link. “I wanted to do something with grief and loss and help people who were in similar situations like me. So, we started the Harman Foundation in 2013.”
Harinder Kaur co-founded the Harman Foundation with her husband Maninder Singh and their two children Manupreet and Nikki Singh. After the family registered the charity with the Australian Charity and Non-profits Commission (ACNC), they circulated a survey to find out the needs of the subcontinental community.
While they set out to support grieving families, they received an overwhelming number of responses pertaining to domestic abuse.
“Surprisingly, when we got the 500 survey responses back, the most common topic was domestic and family violence, and then mental health and lastly, bullying.”
Soon after, the Harman Foundation acquired a 1800 number so that people could ring their helpline confidentially and ask for help. The foundation also started a shelter called ‘Her House’ to support and empower women who seek refuge from violent living conditions.
“The shelter was needed because for our people from Indian backgrounds, it’s just hard to send them to mainstream shelters where there could be 25 people living under the same roof. They need to know they are going to be safe, they need familiarity,” she explained.
The foundation also provides chaplaincy services in hospitals and prisons to patients and inmates of Indian backgrounds to help them cope and uplift their spirits.
Last year, when the COVID pandemic was at its peak in Australia, they were proactive in feeding vulnerable mouths in the community.
“We distributed about 7000 food hampers during the pandemic. We still do a fortnightly food service in Blacktown for the homeless and people from low-income households,” Harinder said.
The Harman Foundation also hosts informative seminars conducted by educators and practitioners on topics like domestic violence, relationship building, and mental and physical health awareness.
“While we don’t specialise in these particular issues, our main goal is to educate and put vulnerable community members in touch with people and services that can help them,” she expressed.
Over at the Department of Communities and Justice where Harinder has worked for the last three decades, she finds herself regularly co-ordinating educational services for the incarcerated.
“We believe that education can make a difference to people’s lives, especially those in the prison system that lack education in their lives,” Harinder stated.
The Blacktown City Council called her a ‘crusader for justice’ and rightly so. Despite the devastating grief and loss, this champion has paid it forward in the community.
Harinder has been honoured with multiple such awards and has been a finalist for several others. She won the Rotary Inspirational Women’s Award 2019, the same year she was recognised by Hindu Council of Australia for her ‘Dedication to Domestic Violence’ work, she was also awarded the ‘Dedication and Extraordinary Work’ award in 2018 by the Indian Women Cultural Association of Australia Inc, to name a few.
“There are so many inspirational women who have made the difference or are making the difference in this world, I feel like I’m just a tiny drop in the ocean,” Harinder remarked.
“In this field, no matter how much you’ve achieved, there’s always going to be more that can be done,” she added.
If you or someone you know is in a domestic violence situation, you can reach the Harman Foundation on 1800 116 675.
1800 737 732 is also a 24-hour national sexual assault, family and domestic violence counselling line for any Australian who has experienced, or is at risk of, family and domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
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