Calgary volunteers help Sikh seniors accommodate religious wear and masks

A group of young volunteers is helping Sikh seniors in Calgary and Edmonton with proper mask use.

Wearing a mask and turban can be a tricky combo when trying to get the strings of a mask behind the ears.

“A lot of people are wearing bandanas instead of masks,” said Aarondeep Maan with the Alberta South Asian COVID-19 Relief Project.

“Since the thickness of the bandana isn’t really there, it wasn’t truly protecting them. It wasn’t protecting them and it wasn’t protecting others in the community.”

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That’s where the Alberta South Asian COVID-19 Relief Project comes in. Young volunteers with Sikhs Doing Seva and Sikh Heritage Alberta have been at the Dashmesh Culture Centre in Calgary over the past several weeks connecting Sikh seniors with COVID-19 information and equipment.

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“The reason we are targeting the seniors is because they don’t speak English and they may not understand truly so we are trying to bridge the gap with them,” Maan said.

“There is a gap in culturally sensitive education. Our volunteers here are Punjabi speaking so we can provide that education in Punjabi.”

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The group has come up with a simple solution to help combine masks and turbans. They are handing out 3D-printed clips that connect mask strings behind the neck instead of behind the ears.
They’ve been a hit among many seniors at the northeast Calgary gurdwara, who are now trading in their scarves and bandanas for three-layered masks.

“Unless they have the three-layer mask, you won’t get full protection… and once they get the special clip, it’s helping them a lot and they’re loving it,” said Amanpreet Singh Gill, president of the Dashmesh Culture Centre.

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Volunteers say it’s all about education and being able to balance the need for religious headwear with the realities of a pandemic.

“Our religious identity is who we are. I’ve worn a turban my whole life and this is who I am. This is my identity,” Maan said.

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“Being able to still wear a mask while keeping my identity is huge. It’s important for myself and for those in the community, so let’s not sacrifice proper mask usage with religious headwear. Let’s try to find a solution for that.”

The volunteers have assisted around 700 people so far in Calgary and 400 in Edmonton. Their next goal is to reach out to other faith groups that could use their clips and their community spirit.

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