Sikh youth body comes of age in Australia

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SYA leader with Opposition Leader Chris Minns. L-R: Ricky Singh (Special Projects Lead), Ravinder Gambir (camp veteran), Dya Singh, Bhavdeep Singh, Chris Minns, Satwant Singh Calais, Tapender Singh Ghuman (SYA Director) and Arvinder Khanna (Summer Camp Lead) – Photo: SYA

By Dya Singh | Austrlaia | 

Sikh Youth Australia (SYA) came together again after two long years. The ‘gathering’ on Sunday (20 March 2022) was pitched as a black-tie charity gala dinner, at the Epping Club in Sydney, New South Wales.

I can proudly say that I have had almost a quarter of a century’s association with SYA and consider myself a part of it, even though I have never lived in Sydney. So, I can self-proclaim that I am an associate founding member! Today, SYA is truly ‘national’ and known globally, amongst Sikhs.

We celebrated 21 years within roughly a quarter of a century. It took about a couple of years or so after starting small gatherings of Sikh youth for Sikhi education and kirtan in Sydney for SYA to become an organisation. At this end we lost a couple of years to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ‘black-tie’ event (still not quite sure what it means, western formal perhaps) included:

  • ’21 Years of SYA’ book launch;
  • launch of ‘Australian Sikh Awards for Excellence’;
  • online live auction of several ‘goodies’ by various sponsors – proceeds going towards several charities;
  • the ‘Who’s Who’ of Sikhs in Australia – mainly from Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra, Queensland, Gold Coast, and Newcastle;
  • and a dear friend Bhavdeep Singh from USA;
  • a bagful of local state and federal politicians;
  • a strong contingent from Special Broadcasting Services Australia (SBS) – even journalist extraordinaire Manpreet K. Singh from Melbourne.

A sumptuous dinner was on offer, even ‘non-veg’ as the Indians refer to meat dishes.

The 370 seats fixture was ‘sold-out’ at $AUD120 a head within two weeks of advertising the event!

For me it was a nostalgic revisit after our initial Covid pandemic ‘scare’ (which is on-going but folks seem to be accepting that as a new norm). After two years of the doom and gloom of apocalyptic fires, floods and the Covid pandemic, it was bliss to see smiling faces, laughter, colour and general merriment. There were even young couples with Covid-period babies!

Australian Sikh Awards for Excellence logo launch at the SYA 21st dinner. Among those on stage were NSW ministers Mark Coure and Tudehope as well as Opposition Leader Chris Minns, along with Sarv Girn (project lead), Amardeep Singh (YSPN Chair) and Satwant Singh Calais (SYA).

My greatest joy is to see our younger generation of Sikh youth – the products of SYA, handling everything so capably, with us older folks who had the joy of initiating this ‘movement’ a quarter of a century ago, either just involved with helping or just sitting back and enjoying it all.

The stage was capably handled by Jaideep Kaur and Gursimrat Singh Bawa, both ‘products’ of SYA camps.

Aboriginal Elder Brendan Kerin gave a synopsis of his background and some aboriginal perspective. Modern day Australia owes a debt to Australia’s indigenous people. He played the ‘Welcome to Country’ on the ‘yidhaki‘ (also known as the didgeridoo).

Brendan ‘Japangardi’ Kerin, a recognised and respected yidaki player amongst both non Aboriginal and Aboriginal communities, at SYA dinner event. He is also a cultural representative of the Aboriginal Land Council – Photo: SYA

He made a casual remark that he had not seen so many politicians turning up for an event! He assumed that it was ‘probably the good food’! But I believe it is the emerging positive profile of Sikhs generally. The disproportionate contributions of Sikhs to their numbers towards the social, humanitarian and economic fabric of Australian society is getting noticed. And with Guru Ji’s Grace, it is a global phenomenon.

SYA ‘Camp sewadar’ (I call him the ‘Commandant’) Satwant Singh Calais, the man who has overseen every Sikh youth and family ‘camp’ since its inception, welcomed all and outlined SYA’s activities for almost a quarter of a century to date.

These included the establishment of three social enterprise programs:

  • Young Sikh Professional Network (YSPN);
  • Sikh2Give (community charitable services)
  • and CultureCare (community health services). All have projects across the nation;
  • Art and culture through the workshops and tours by the world famous Sikh artist Inkquisitive,
  • launch of Lost Heritage books by Amardeep Singh,
  • Guru Tegh Bahadur –The True Story’ (2nd edition) by S. Gurmukh Singh of UK,
  • my own contribution – ‘Sikhing Success & Happiness’,
  • and the annual nationwide kirtan and lecture tours by Giani Sukhdaiv Singh (of Gurpuri, Malaysia), Veer Manpreet Singh, Prof Jaswant Singh and myself.

SYA also provides support for various charities through raising funds by various means, to support communities affected by floods, bushfires, Covid, mental health, family violence and blood drives. $200,000 was raised over the past two years for these charities.

Among the state ministers present were New South Wales (NSW) Minister for Finance and Employment Relations and Leader of Government in Legislative Council Hon Damien Tudehope, NSW Minister for Seniors and Multiculturalism Hon Mark Coure and NSW Minister for Corrections Dr Geoff Lee. Also present were the Leader of the Opposition Mr Chris Minns, our own NSW member for Coffs Harbour S Gurmesh Singh, and, Federal MP for Greenway and Shadow Minister for Communications Ms. Michelle Rowland.

Multicultural NSW Advisory Board Chair Dr Harinath and Blacktown Council new councillor Ms Pushpinder Kaur were also present.

Minister Coure was very impressed with the SYA Future Leaders program. He remarked that he would like to be involved in the program and would be happy to consider providing scholarships for youth to attend.

I must make mention of the sponsors of the event without whom such occasions cannot be carried out. National Australia Bank; Fisher and Paykel; QE Stores; Coutts Real Estate; Gill Lawyers; AVACC Accountants; AusPackaging; JK Speech and Health Services; Australian Over 50’s Living and Lifestyle Guide. SBS (Special Broadcasting Services) and ‘Indian Link’ were the media sponsors.

Noticeable absentees from the ‘sponsors’ list were any gurdwaras! Perhaps they were not approached, but past history suggests that they seem reluctant to fund such Sikh progressive events. This needs to be addressed. Gurdwaras, of necessity, need to play an active part in such activities especially where Sikh youth are involved and raising the positive profile of Sikhs in the mainstream.

My turn at the event was next – to render a ‘Sikh Invocation’. I had prepared myself to sing ‘Satgur ki sewa safal hai…‘. (Service unto the Guru – sewa is fulfilled if one does so selflessly.) I was defeated by the sound system which otherwise worked very well all evening. Nevertheless, ‘He’ showered the occasion with His Blessings in His own way. I thank the audience members who sang along with me!

Then some awards were handed out for service through SYA, mainly to the ‘elders’.

One special highlight was the ‘launch of the impressive coffee table book – ‘21 Years – Sikh Youth Australia‘. The book was designed by the team at Paul and Marigold and authored by our own elder sewadar Surinderjeet Singh Ji. He spoke with emotion of those early pioneers who have passed on, namely one Harkum Singh Ji, and the joy and satisfaction of putting in the hard work towards the creation of this book which records SYA’s first 21 years, for posterity. It has impressive and well laid out content complimented by memorable pictures.

Various sponsored items were auctioned off by a very colourful and loud auctioneer besides the efforts of Jaideep and Gursimrat. And they raised $19,000 during the evening.

A stirring speech was delivered by young aspiring Sikh youth leader Karan Anand, a former Chairperson of Young Sikh Professionals Network (YSPN), basically about the work of SYA and YSPN as he saw it, the future, and the part Sikhi plays in youth development. Some of his ideas derived from the evolutionary ability of Sikhi life philosophy and its applicability and flexibility as a tool of self-improvement, were refreshing.

Various politicians spoke in glowing terms of the achievements of SYA and Sikhs in Australia generally, especially their humanitarian work at disaster sites.

Another highlight of the evening was the launch of ‘The Australian Sikh Awards for Excellence’. Eight categories have been chosen. Firstly, the underlying Sikhi value of sewa must be prominent. The recipients should be positively contributing to the social and economic development of Australia. The categories are: Agriculture, Arts, Culture and Music; Community Service; Leadership; Professional Skills; Sikh Values; Sports & Athletics; and Young Australian Sikh of the Year.

A well-defined criteria is laid down and an impartial panel of 7 representatives picked on merit, from across Australia will make decisions on recipients for a two-year period.

SYA Special Awards for sewadars (volunteers) who gave 21 years of continuous service. L-R: Karan Anand (YSPN inaugural president), Satjit Singh (receiving on behalf of his father Gurpreet Singh), Sukhvinder Singh (founding member),Satwant Singh Calais (founding member), Minister for Multiculturalism Mark Coure, Australian Labor Party opposition leader Chris Minns, Mohinderpal (MP) Singh, Jaswinder Singh Sidhu and Jaideep Kaur (MC and attendee of the Sikh first camp, and many more over the years) – Photo: SYA

The first chair of the ‘Board of Selection’ is S. Tarandeep Singh Ahuja. Tarandeep is a partner of the global management consultancy firm McKinsey & Company based in Melbourne. With a wealth of experience in strategy, growth, performance improvement and digital transformation, he leads their Product Development and Procurement practice across the Asia-Pacific region. He is also passionate about Australia-India economic development. He was a guest speaker at the recent inaugural Asian-Australian Leadership Summit. He joined us by video link to address the gathering.

I was ‘done’ by 9.30pm and I think so was the main, and eventful part of the evening. I must add that the food, by normal standards I have seen at such functions was of a very high standard. I skipped the dessert.

There were the usual bhangra/giddha performances by SYA youth to add to the merriment. All in all, it was a successful coming together after two years.

I think the whole fixture was best summed up by my friend Bhavdeep Singh from New York. He is a former corporate executive, now an entrepreneur, a leadership motivational speaker, business consultant totally in touch with the changing face of corporate culture and rapid development in technology, and a Gursikh who is himself from a Sikh youth camp ‘culture’ in USA and Canada. He was here to conduct a number of seminars for emerging Sikh youth leaders under the auspices of YSPN. He said, “Sikh ‘dinners’ are usually plenty of hot air (speeches?), colour, bright lights, plenty of backslapping, photo opportunities, plenty of food and drink, noise and bhangra! This event was constructive besides being great fun. I want to replicate this in the USA because there was plenty of ‘forward planning’ and initiatives for future generations, and more importantly, Sikh ‘youth’ handled it. Thankfully, there was no alcohol! I salute you guys.”

He also mentioned that it was impressive how many politicians had attended. That was a credit to the ‘positive exposure’, recognition, and value placed on Sikhs in Australia.

For a global minority and a minority in any country for that matter, I believe we have got it right in Australia, not only for ourselves but future generations. Now it is a question of handing over the baton to the younger generation with the hope and prayer that they can do the same.

Guru kirpa keray.

Malaysian-born Dya Singh, who now resides in Australia, is an accomplished musician and a roving Sikh preacher. The Dya Singh World Music Group performs full scale concerts on ‘music for the soul’ based on North Indian classical and semi-classical styles of music with hymns from mainly the Sikh, Hindu and Sufi ‘faiths’. He is also the author of SIKH-ING: Success and Happiness. He can be contacted at dyasingh@khalsa.com

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

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