Skip to main content

Malkiat Singh Hoonjan, a heavy duty mechanic, works on helping fix tractors and other farm machines in Sumas Prairie, in Abbotsford, B.C., on Jan. 30.Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

After the floodwaters started to recede from the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford, B.C., Raj Braich felt blessed that his property was left undamaged. But surveying the aftermath of the November storms that caused an estimated $1-billion in damage to the region’s homes and fertile farmland, Mr. Braich realized that many of his neighbours had not been so lucky.

Mr. Braich is a certified heavy duty mechanic and so are most of his friends. So he put in a call to fellow mechanic Gurpreet Gill and the two decided to put their skills to use helping their community.

That effort turned into a small collective of volunteer mechanics who call themselves the Chardi Kala Tractor Sewa Group. The phrase Chardi Kala comes from the Sikh principle of always maintaining a state of optimism despite adversity, while Sewa refers to acts of selfless service.

Malkiat Singh Hoonjan, Bram Sadilk, and Tim Henthorne work on a tractor damaged by the floods.Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

Every Sunday morning, the nine to 10 mechanics who form the core of the Chardi Kala Tractor Sewa Group meet to review the requests for help from neighbours. Smaller groups of two to three volunteers then travel to farms across the Fraser Valley, where they begin to repair vehicles and farm equipment that have been submerged in floodwaters for several days. The teams drain polluted fluid from the tractors and test hundreds of circuits and wires. It’s slow, methodical work.

Raj Braich and Gurpreet Gill work on repairs in Sumas Prairie.Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

“Farmers get hit from every angle. But they are the strong back[bone] of the community,” said volunteer Malkiat Singh Hoonjan, a heavy duty mechanic who has a background in farming blueberries. Back in his native India, there is a strong tradition and love for farming, he said. “It is part of our faith when you have to help others.”

The group has repaired more than 30 pieces of machinery since November. Several volunteers with drywall experience have also joined the effort recently.

Those helped by the group say the volunteers have given them a lifeline.

“If it wasn’t for their help and their time it would be tough on us,” said Hardip Sangha, a hobby farmer whose lawn mowers and ATVs the Chardi Kala Tractor Sewa Group repaired on a recent Sunday.

“I’m blessed and the farmers are blessed, too,” he said. “These guys start in the morning and work all day and leave late. We can’t thank them enough.”

Malkiat Singh Hoonjan does repair work. 'It is part of our faith when you have to help others,' he said.Jimmy Jeong/The Globe and Mail

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.