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A Day in the Life of a Sikh Youth Australia Camp





'Nanak satgur bhetiyai poori hovai jugt / hassandiyaa(n) khelandiyaa(n) painendiyaa(n) khavandiyaa(n) vichai hovai mukt'  - O Nanak, meeting the True Guru one comes to know the Perfect Way, While laughing, playing, dressing and eating, one is liberated.   [GGS:522]


The Sikh Youth Australia ("SYA") Summer Camp is now in its 15th year. I mean the Australian summer, of course.

It has now evolved into a distinct 'youth and family' camp so that parents and grandparents know exactly what their younger generations are gaining in Sikhi and also perhaps what they themselves have missed, and that it is never too late!

Though the main curriculum is aimed at youth, mums, dads, grandparents and adults in general are also catered for in special gurmat and gurbani interactive classes by competent bilingual 'facilitators'. It is a strong belief of this camp organisers that Sikhi can only flourish if a strong 'family values' culture is nurtured.

Established by a strong management and administrative team, the success of those who started this camp --  Satwant Singh Calais, Ajmer Singh Gill, Sukhvinder Singh, Jaswinder Singh Sidhu, Gurpreet Singh and their families -- is reflected in the fact that their offsprings are now all successful leaders in their own chosen fields of vocation, proudly 'saabat-surat' Sikhs and now part of the management / administrative team of the camp.

Those who were just about knee-high and listened to what we had to teach them, now tell us what to do! Some are competent facilitators in their own right.

This is not just a gurmat camp per se. The focal point is the darbar hall and the Guru, but the curriculum is fairly broad with regular nitnem for all participants, of Japji, Rehras and Sohila with participation in kirtan by all the young participants in the mode of a 'gursangeet' competition in which all the youths, including the little ones, the aptly named Mighty Khalsa and Bachay Bahadar, take part.

There is scope for leadership training and seva because selected older youths are responsible for looking after and leading one of four jathas made up of younger participants, in activities and competitions over the week (including kirtan, seva, sports, aerobics and drama).

Besides that, there are 'Inspirational Sessions' and ‘shabad vichaar' by competent bilingual kirtaniyas and age-specific workshops by knowledgeable parchaaraks - all part of the hand-picked team of facilitators.

The day starts with parkash at 3 am by Giani Sukdaiv Singh of the Gurpuri Orphanage and Centre for Single Mums in Malaysia. He is the one facilitator who has attended all 15 SYA Summer Camps from their inception. He likes to do all five nitnem banis including naam simran till 4.30 am, when Asa ki Vaar begins.

There are always some who are present by 3 am to take advantage of amrit vela and the sangat of nitnemis in the early, ambrosial hours of dawn.

For the participants, it is mandatory to attend by 6 am. with about twenty minutes of naam simran followed by Japji Sahib which is recited by one of the four jathas into which all youth participants are divided.

Daily, it is interesting and heart-warming to see more and more participants turning up for Asa ki Vaar and more and more attendees starting to join in and participate and enjoy the naam-nectar.

The Japji Sahib is followed by breakfast at 7 am. “Khaan peen da iss kamp vich koyi ghaata nahin - There is no shortage of food and beverage in this camp,” according to one grandparent.

There is the ‘selaami’ (salute) of the Nishaan Sahib and also the Australian flag with singing of 'deh shiva' and the Australian national anthem all handled by participants, jatha leaders and mentors. (There is debate now as to whether we should, in the future, perhaps change our anthem to 'jo tao prem khelan ka chao ...').

Then an inspirational session / shabad vichaar in the darbar hall. All jathas then have their daily meetings and planning for their various competitions which include a daily gursangeet competition; their conduct at langar seva; reading of Japji and Rehras and, in general, punctuality, behavior and random acts of kindness, all of which go towards which jatha becomes champion.

Two 50-minute workshops are then conducted between 10 am and noon for different age groups by facilitators. This includes classes for the very young and also two adult classes. Class premises are all equipped with overhead projectors, white boards, markers and butcher’s paper for group presentations within classes. Facilitators are urged to make all class sessions interactive and are observed by members of the management / administrative team for content, guideline adherence especially within the Rehat Maryada, relevance and fun.

This year the special adult sessions were conducted by S. Hari Singh of Auckland, discussing salient philosophical aspects of Asa ki Vaar and the debunking brahminical practices which are creeping back into Sikh lore. Some of these sessions became quite lively and educational.

Lunch is followed by a fair amount of free time for the jathas to organise themselves and practice for their various competitions plus supervised extra-curricular activities including rock-climbing, archery, canoeing and high-ropes courses.

Participants have other optional activities to choose from in the afternoon, ranging from youth gurbani santhiya classes, turban-swaag (turban tying) classes, and youth discussion circles run by other youth on more contemporary topics. Adults have the option of attending yoga classes, including tips on healthy diet. The goal is to bring up well rounded Sikh youth into responsible adulthood.

Rehras begins at 6 pm, followed by a 45-minute inspirational session in the darbar hall, followed by dinner at 7 pm.

The gursangeet competition starts at 8 pm nightly. Each jatha presents one shabad per night of their own selection. Kirtan facilitators are always on hand to guide each jatha and help them with their shabad and tips on how to gain extra points! The kirtan is judged by two of the kirtan facilitators. At the end of the evening, the judges provide feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of each presentation based on specific criteria.

On the first three nights, after gursangeet competition and samaapti, the participants have an indoor sports competition, Bhangra aerobics or youth discussion circles after 9 pm. The adults have a gurbani santhiya class with Giani Sukdaiv Singh. The fourth and final night is drama night with each group coming up with a Sikh-centric skit incorporating the theme of the camp, normally to high hilarity.

Lights out at 11 pm.

The final day goes on as regular until 4 pm when the concluding darbar service is followed by samaapti and the Guru Granth is bid farewell with great pomp and ceremony.

*   *   *   *   *

I have had the privilege of attending Sikh youth camps and naujawan samelans worldwide.

This one is unique because even more than the youngsters, the older folks - parents and grandparents especially - look forward to attend it. This camp is certainly not baby-sitting for parents as some other camps I have observed, are!

Furthermore, the stress is not on any kind of ritual of prayer, simran and paatth, but rather a more holistic (or 'wholistic,' if you like) approach - utilising the Sikh way of life as a tool for self-improvement and responsible adulthood. With the families attending together, there is a greater chance of the discipline continuing within each household, after the camp is over. There is growing evidence of that.

Personally, I take great pride in the gursangeet competition which is one of the phenomenal successes of this camp. It has provided all youth participants with not only the opportunity of being involved in the rudimentaries of 'sur-taal', raags, sangeet creation, and shabad-presentation, all of which one hopes will lead to 'kirtan nirmolak heera' through a state of naam simran, but also a growing enthusiasm to learn kirtan.

Many of the participants have had no formal lessons in kirtan, but yet can confidently take part in doing kirtan! Participants are not spared constructive criticism and methods to improve in the first few days, leading to a remarkable transformation in kirtan presentation on the final day - truly an amazing phenomenon!

This year, besides Giani Sukdaiv Singh, S. Hari Singh Ji and I, we had Yadvinder Singh from Auckland especially for his very sweet kirtan; Jaspal Singh for his self-improvement and modern approach to Sikhi discourses for the juniors; Amarjit Kaur Doowa from Bangkok and Sankar ji for yoga; Charanpal Singh to handle the Mighty Khalsa and Bahadur Bachay; alongwith with numerous other assistants. The back-up support group for administration; transport; medical; accommodation for outstationers outside of camp period, etc. is quite large and a credit to the depth and strength of SYA.

Set in the idyllic hilly region of Narrabeen just south of Sydney, at the Sydney Academy of Sport and Recreation, beside a fresh-water lake, this 'camp' leaves a memorable imprint on one’s mind. I love the site because I can take off in almost any direction for a good, long, invigorating bush walk whenever there is some free time. The accommodation is comfortable, including cabins by the lake for families.

This camp has now earned a reputation of treating everyone who attends without any form of judgementalism or disapproval. I have seen families ranging from those who bear Sikh names and even some westernised names (like Herman Dillon or Sharon Gill) and who, besides being born in Sikh families, know nothing more about the faith except that they attend gurdwara when invited or when needing a free meal; to families who are fully turbaned, amritdharies, vegetarians, donning all 5K's and reading five banis in the morning.

There are also non-Sikhs who wish to experience the Sikh way of life for five days.

This camp is about being inclusive and promoting the Sikh ideal. I have to report that by the fifth day I personally had confidential queries from five families who were considering partaking in amrit.

On the last day, general seva, like sweeping, cleaning after langar, darbar hall cleaning sahib, was scheduled to be done by the elders and it was heart-warming to see many youngsters refusing to let the older folks do the seva out of sheer respect!

We all need a boost of sadh sangat and just being with like-minded fellow Sikhs, young and old, an experience which a great many of us do not have on a regular basis. This camp provides it right in the beginning of the year to charge up the batteries for the year ahead. To me, this camp is the catalyst that I need to start the year off on the right foot.

The facilitators are all bilingual, handpicked, and range from saintly ones like Giani Sukdaiv Singh who lends an intense aura of piety, humility and deep reverence at all darbar hall activities, to history experts; kirtaniyas who draw the youth towards kirtan; scholars with deep philosophical, historical and gurbani knowledge; yoga, physical fitness, diet, gatka and even bhangra instructors who engage the youth in physical pursuits - all part of the miri-piri and sant-sipahi idealogy.

This year’s annual camp was also graced by three high ranking Australian politicians, including the Federal Minister of Multicultural Affairs. SYA is helping to raise the profile of Sikhs in Australia and promoting the Sikh way of life with a
strong emphasis on family values, discipline and respect for elders - ingredients which compliment the Australian traits of mateship, 'fair go' and a certain irreverence towards officialdom!

SYA is helping to raise Sikh adults who will be a credit to their parents, to the 'panth' and to their country of residence. It is a pity that gurdwaras with large incomes do not normally support such ventures to the degree they should. Nevertheless, with the support of responsible and philanthropic Sikhs, government assistance and fees collected, SYA has lasted this long and with Waheguru's grace shall go on with this sterling seva.

Experience in running this camp prompted the organisers to also start a Sikh Leadership Development Weekend in mid-year for the last eight years, with great success.

Leading Sikh entrepreneurs and youth leaders worldwide are invited to conduct self-improvement, management, marketing and profession-orientated courses on the Sikh way for those youth 18 years and above. Through this leadership program, SYA is now gaining recognition in Australian business, corporate and political arenas and is able to issue legitimate and recognised testimonials to its participants.

The next Leadership Development Weekend will be held July 5 to 7, 2013.

Attendees have now started coming not only from all states of Australia but also from New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Phillipines, Kenya, India, UK and USA.

*   *   *   *   *

So, if you have ever considered visiting the great ‘down under‘, come in January and be part of this incredible camp! You will be well looked after.

Next year’s camp shall take place within the first two weeks of January, the dates to be announced later.

SYA can be contacted through their website or

January 30, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Mrs. S K Bhogal (United Kingdom), January 30, 2013, 7:32 AM.

I have had the pleasure of reading your write-ups, including various comments and experiences. It sounds very uplifting spiritually. I will make sure that I pass on this information to various friends and families in Australia, Kenya and UK. God bless you all.

2: Nisha Kaur (Sydney, Australia), January 30, 2013, 7:58 AM.

An excellent synopsis of the structure, content and general "vibe" of the camp! Having attended these camps since I was "knee-high" (I still kinda am!), I can personally attest to the love, dedication and hard work that the SYA team puts into these camps - which is evidenced by the growing numbers of new sangat attending from all around the world. If you would like to be part of a beautiful, inclusive and respectful environment which embraces the elements of Sikhi and encourages participants to live the Sikh way of life, then I would strongly encourage you to attend the Leadership Camp in July and the annual summer camp this time next year!

3: Preet (Sydney, Australia), January 30, 2013, 8:12 AM.

I love the Sikh youth camp! I love the way they make Sikhism accessible to all ages and perspectives, they welcome all and help us create a friendship with the Guru.

4: Kavi Singh (USA), January 30, 2013, 4:19 PM.

From the day I landed in Sydney in November 2012, I have been involved with SYA in some way, shape or form, helping them with any seva they needed for camp. When attending any of the pre-camp meetings you can see the love and dedication by all involved for the camp, and then at camp it is magnified greatly. I am very fortunate to have had the privilege of attending as well helping with this camp and the sangat here in Australia is very welcoming. I highly recommend SYA camps to anyone who has not attended them yet, and for those who did attend, please come back! The love for the Guru and Guru's bani and for sangat is a great experience, and like Dya Singh ji said, there is lots of room for fun, and for eating as well! This is a 5 day experience you will remember for a lifetime ... I hope to come back year after year.

5: Jaideep Kaur (Sydney, Australia), January 30, 2013, 5:13 PM.

I've been attending since the first camp! Every year it's a new feeling of happiness and spirituality. Absolutely love the experience. I love the fact that there are so many like-minded people there to share the journey with you.

6: H. Kaur (Canada), January 31, 2013, 7:29 AM.

Focusing on the ills of Brahmin rituals is a very good idea. They probably should spend a week on that alone and then another one on all the stupid superstitions our people have picked up from India. These camps are a wonderful way in the fight to dispel the darkness of brahminical superstitions and rituals our people have started following in spite of Guru Gobind Singh's words that he will turn his back on us if we give in to "bipran ki reet."

7: Jaspal Singh (Malaysia), January 31, 2013, 11:36 PM.

It's the best way to spend a couple of days of summer with more Sikh friends and family than one could the whole year round, in the spirit of fellowship and learning. Veer Dya, you've truly captured the emotions and spirit of the whole camp in your article. Yes, it really was fun-tabulous. I'll certainly cherish the awesome and blissful experience. And those who missed it ... well, they'll never know ... haha! Wish the camp ran for more days ...

8: Inni Kaur (Fairfield, Connecticut, USA), February 01, 2013, 9:06 AM.

Dya Singh ji - now I am sad that I missed out being with you all this year. Looking forward to being at the SYA Camp in 2014!

9: Jagdeep Singh (Punjab), February 03, 2013, 6:27 PM.

Good to see that we are treasuring their culture. I hope that when it comes to marrying our children off, each one of us will remember we are Sikhs, and do NOT belong or subscribe to any caste.

10: Dibjot Singh (Australia), February 04, 2013, 8:34 AM.

Very nice article, Uncle Dya ji! And hats off to everyone in the SYA Sangat who make the camp an amazing experience every year!

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