My maiden digital samelan experience

IN ACTON: One of the activities at SNSM’s e-Samelan 2020 – Photo: MySamelan Facebook page
By Jagdesh Singh | OPINION |

It started three days earlier for me. Just like the past 20 years of attending, participating and finally volunteering as different types of roles in service for the Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia’s (SNSM) Annual Gurmat Parchar Samelan, I start getting jittery with excitement. My excitement has always centered towards the expectation of meeting like minded Sikhs from all over the country, particularly the ones that have morphed to becoming lifelong friends over the past two decades.

For the family, these seven days of living in the camp, breathing the fresh air within the foothills, eating and sleeping without the comforts of air conditioning and hot showers, seemed like the perfect vacation. Only because we love the love we get from the people in these Gurmat camps over the past two decades.

There’s also an element of the legendary tahu sambal of Malkit Singh, but I digress and it qualifies for another article of its own.

When Sabha announces that we would carry on with the Gurmat Samelan for 2020 despite the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, all run virtually through the wonderful technology of the internet, I was sceptical. Would it even scratch the surface on how the camp would feel like? I use the words ‘feel like’ purposely because a big portion of being at the samelans, let alone living in it for 7 days, was the unique blended feelings of just being there in the company of our youth, and at the same time in the company of people who cared so much for our youth. It’s a feeling you experience by only being physically there. Or so I thought.

My wife and I were asked to help out with teaching the Mighties throughout the four mornings from the 24th of December 2020. The Mighties are kids aged 7 to 12, registered as Samelan participants. I had this horrific vision of kids thrashing their parents’ laptops or tablets while participating in the Zoom meetings, frustrated with how boring our teaching was going to be. After all, not many of us were even familiar with Zoom, let alone trained to be actual teachers equipped with online teaching skills. But to my utter surprise, the groundwork to handle seven simultaneous Zoom classes, with top of the notch materials using Powerpoint slides and brilliant interactive videos, was already in good shape. It would be remiss of me to even guess how many late nights that were pulled by some of these tireless young creative volunteers. It was honestly brilliant!

As we started our first class on that faithful Thursday morning, it quickly dawned on me that I’ve underestimated the kids. They were attentive. They did their homework from the fun books that were delivered to them electronically and physically. They enjoyed the videos. They were vocal when unmute and on the chat. I was blown away. There was a sense of accomplishment amongst us teaching sewadars after the classes ended. We breathed a sigh of relief when none of the worst case scenarios that we were paranoid about came through.

Meanwhile, throughout the five days, live games designed for fraternizing amongst the older kids were getting the response above expectations. Japji Sahib and Rehraas Sahib were done smoothly, loud and clear. The inspirational sessions (a blend of kirtan and motivational discourse) were enjoyed while inspiring families in their living rooms where their TVs or laptops were.

And, my personal favorite, which was a huge highlight, was the Model Sikh Youth Sabha. Again, via Zoom, we had teenagers and tweens articulating ideas and points in a parliament-like setting, with rebuttals and questions thrown in for good measure. The maturity displayed here would put many of us, including yours truly, to shame. If we were here for the youth, to educate them, it looked like we were doing something right.

The platform for all this to happen was the team from SikhInside. After being successful in filling in the huge gaping vacuum of providing some semblance of the Gurdwara and Keertan to hundreds of families online while we hunkered down in our homes during lockdowns, making the e-Samelan a reality with their technology know how and skills was the cherry on the cake. Bar one power failure glitch, it was amazing that, not only did they provide the means for participants to learn and enjoy the activities online, they’ve somehow created an atmosphere at home that generated the feeling I talked about earlier!

Kudos have to be given to SikhInside for their creativity and tireless work in making this work. And Sabha, too, for forging ahead with the E-Samelan in 2020, a year we’ll remember for a long time to come. The challenge now is to make sure we use this new way of the Samelan as a springboard for future Samelans, online or in person. Perhaps a hybrid approach? Something to ponder on.

But the same feeling of being in the Samelan this year was there for me, new norms and all. I laughed with my friends, new and old, online. I discussed and learned about Sikhism and the practicalities of it from my friends and from the children I was supposed to be teaching to, online. I even dressed up accordingly, online. My daughters enjoyed meeting their old buddies and making new friends, online.

The only thing missing was the Langgar food, and Malkit’s tahu sambal. But the feeling was there!

IN ACTON: One of the zoom sessions of SNSM’s e-Samelan 2020 

Jagdesh Singh, a Kuala Lumpur-based executive with a US multinational company, is a father of three girls who are as opinionated as their mother

* This is the opinion of the writer, organisation or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.



SNSM to bolster e-learning to reach out to Sikh youth (Asia Samachar, 18 Oct 2020)

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