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Sikhing Outside the Box





The 9th Sikh Youth Australia National Leadership Program: July 5 - 7, 2013


Having attended various Sikh camps around the globe, first as a participant and then as a facilitator, this was a weekend which was different.

A camp about self-improvement and leadership, run by a professional and semi-professional team, including highly successful young Sikh entrepreneurs from around the globe, local management specialists and financial professionals, and former participants turned facilitators.

The syllabus is based on the latest self-improvement techniques, but mainly geared to Sikh youth, with elements of nitnem, kirtan and naam simran thrown in.

I have been involved with Sikh Youth Australia since its inception 15 years ago, but I have not had, till this year, the opportunity of attending and facilitating at their leadership camps … which are now in their 9th year.

I have never been more impressed.

This project is the baby of Satwant Singh Calais, a management consultant himself, and a small team of dedicated sevadars, all professionals amongst whom are management specialists Jaswinder Singh, Buck Samrai, Shankar and Sarv Girn, the Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Reserve Bank of Australia.

They are all proud Sikhs doing their seva by helping youth in getting their bearings for the future.

The professional facilitating team is led by Ash Singh, originally a native of Toronto, Canada, but now based in Singapore. When I first met him in Canada at the turn of the millennium, he was in college and, at the same time, selling high-range cars. His main reason being that he could impress his college mates by driving into college in a different, dazzling car every day!

Now he is a highly successful businessman / entrepreneur. His spiel reads: Serial entrepreneur with Sikh blood, Canadian birth, Chinese education and Asian business experience. Asia's Best Young Entrepreneur - Business Week 2009 … and so on.

Through his networking, he has harnessed the talents of a bright young Chinese lady. A highly qualified business consultant, Sara Yik specializes in leadership development and performance transformation, based in Singapore but operating as a global consultant. Her client-list includes entities like Credit Suisse.

The list of other talented facilitators, mainly young Sikhs, goes on and on. One Singapore-based consultant/lawyer, Jasbir Singh, just cycled around Alaska!

"If you are pursuing your dreams to make money, you will not lead a successful and fulfilling life. But if you step forth to help others and work towards the betterment of humankind, you cannot fail!"

A motto which describes the very essence of seva.

“What you think is what you become," is another. Think positive and be optimistic and you shall be successful. They sound like Chardi Kala to me!

Another powerful concept is to always 'think outside the box'. Ash Singh himself is living proof of this concept. He calls himself the black sheep of the family. His younger brother, who had come from Calgary in Canada, is studying medicine NOT to become a general practitioner or even a medical specialist but because he owns a medical innovations company which does research in the medical field. He believes that by qualifying as a doctor, he will be able to contribute towards the future success of his company and help humankind -- not just one patient at a time!

That is thinking outside the box!

There were 120 participants divided into three classes. The first year’s course is called PX2 - an internationally credited course designed by the Pacific Institute (US) for self-mastery, goal-setting and realising your potential. 

A number of local youth facilitators assisted in the delivery of this course, including Manu, Amardeep and Saranpaal.

The second year is called ‘Success to Significance’ - a booster to the first year and using the latest tools and techniques in interpersonal dynamics.

The third and final year is called 'I 2 I' - Ideas to Impact. This entails putting all that has been learnt in the first two years into a Business Plan, called the ‘Lean Canvas‘, for a product or service which impacts on the Sikh or wider community.

This plan is pitched and launched by each team on the final day before an audience of parents, relatives, friends and also the general Sikh public. The audience is then wooed by each team to invest in each idea.

This final year is handled by Ash himself, with the help of a small team. This year, his flank was covered by another highly qualified youngster, Sundeep Singh, a co-founder of, one of the fastest growing E-Commerce businesses in South East Asia.

Sundeep is born and brought up in Kuwait - talk of an international team!

The surprise package for the weekend was 24-year-old Sikh hip-hop artiste, Sukhdeep Singh -- stage name 'L-Fresh'. A short impromptu performance within his keynote speech brought the audience to its feet. His dedication to his craft and Sikh principles left oldies like me with tears in our eyes.

He also holds a double university degree - a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Law. L-fresh is going to go very far … keep a lookout for him!

Some of the service ideas which were first launched last year are already bearing fruit. Of prominence is the “Young Sikh Professionals Network” (YSPN) which helps as a support group for all young Sikh professionals with professional advice and also helping them to find placements within industry - a natural extension of the aspirations of Sikh Youth Australia.

Of note from this year’s innovative ideas was the pitch for an animated series of Sikh Nursery Rhymes, starting with an interactive Punjabi alphabet playtime and a catchy melody to learn the 'painti' in quick time.

This will be followed by ten other very simple kavitas (verses) to encourage children to sing in Punjabi as a means to becoming familiar and conversant with the language.

Talented 'animation' specialists from amongst the participants have taken up this challenge with a support group of experts in Punjabi language -- writers and singers.

The product, when developed, will be available worldwide as each rendition is completed.

My job was to try and inspire them all in two one-hour slots per day, working around the recitation of Japji Sahib and Rehras, which were done in music with some naam simran and basic pointers for personal practice.

Held in the idyllic rural setting of the New South Wales Institute of Sports north of Sydney, this was a very pleasant weekend with warm accommodation (it is winter here!) and other facilities, complete with tasty nourishing vegetarian food and snacks throughout the day.

One steps out to lush green fields and bushland and one is awakened in the morning to the screeches of white galas with bright yellow plumes, colourful parakeets and kookaburras in the gum trees. One can also spot the odd kangaroo in the bushes.

The joy and sense of achievement and fulfillment on the last day on the faces of the participants as well as the visitors, was a very satisfying sight.

A modest scholarship for two young young women of AUD $500 per participant per year, named after Sara Yik, was announced by the organisers at the finale. Sikh Youth Australia also gave away a sum of AUD $5000 to all worthwhile projects set up by participants and plans to assist each team by assigning local mentors to ensure that all projects are carried through and developed.

Thus, a sizeable sum of money was donated for the projects and also to Sikh Youth Australia by the sangat.

Where we as Sikhs are world renowned for our generosity in building new gurdwaras worldwide, we also need to invest in our youth for a higher civic profile of our worldwide Sikh community and in this I believe Sikh Youth Australia is playing a sterling role in Australia.

Personally, the revelation was in seeing Sikh youth and professionals of every ilk -- ranging from those who shy away from gurdwaras and Sikh politics, to amritdharis, keshadharis, clean-shaven and youth from mixed parents -- all working and playing together. This is an inclusive camp where all are made to feel welcome and equal. Friendships are forged, networking takes place and our youth and professionals find direction and confidence to step forward into the future with confidence.

They also learn something about themselves and their heritage.

"The vision is to spread this venture worldwide so that our future generations will have a network to tap into for their economic and spiritual advancement. Getting a university degree is no guarantee for future well-being these days and into the future, but a worldwide Sikh network along these lines, teaching youngsters Sikh values and tools for personal, professional and business success and generally helping Sikh youth and young Sikh professionals to realise their true potential, is a lifeline not only for economic progress for them, but also for our collective spiritual progress and Sikhi.

“Their success is the success of the worldwide Sikh community, taking us all, together, into the future. Just teaching our young about our 'religion' is not good enough", says Satwant Singh.

For more information on Sikh Youth Australia and its activities, please CLICK here.

July 12, 2013

Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 12, 2013, 7:21 PM.

Dya ji, you could trace your own fateful journey when you were among the firsts to attend Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia's ("SNSM") seminal beginning -- the modest inaugural sammelan in Port Dickson in the late 60s. I was a witness to it. All participants, some 20 of them, were housed in the Youth Sports Hostel at the Third Mile. All the activities took place at the wooden Port Dickson gurdwara on the seaside. It was one man, Master Gurbachan Singh ji's, dream. Today SNSM is a force to reckon with. Dya ji, it was your own experience that did the seeding operation. Today you are actively participating with a box of pleasant memories. By so doing we re-live through our children, and thus cheat death. Your impending trip to Malaysia is postponed for the time being, to revisit your personal experience of the most successful youth camp. It shows the hand of fate, of how it shapes us. Go and cheerfully infect some more with abandon.

2: Kanwal Prakash Singh (Indianapolis, Indiana, USA), July 13, 2013, 9:57 AM.

Bhai Dya Singh, the enlightened and accomplished Sikh faith musician and spiritual ambassador sets before the Sikh global community an enlarged perspective and a timely challenge. I know from my personal experience that our youth and future generations will greatly benefit from such a commitment: spirit of civic engagement, community involvements, and interactions with the interfaith communities at multiple levels. When we know ourselves, we can conquer the world; but we need to know our place, environment, assets, competition, and about others to become a major force in changing the human universe; strengthening our own faith; understanding and building our rightful and critical relationships with the world around us. The Sikh faith's doctrine and message offer the world an all-embracing and advanced spiritual and cultural renaissance, with its foundation deeply rooted in equality, dignity, justice, service, unity, universality, and our shared humanity. The Sikh faith heritage is awaiting to be made known to all mankind at many levels and in multiple ways, not just as a faith, but as an enlightened mandate to live and serve the entire "dharamsaal Earth that God has established within the unfathomable cosmos." When we explore the world outside the box, we witness the sunshine, rain, snow and blizzard, the sacred sounds and beauty of nature; we learn about diverse perspectives, experiences, journeys of other civilizations; we see and recognize the myriad wonders and opportunities awaiting our thoughtful energies, wisdom, and talents; and know that we are a part of all the tribes of humanity gathering in countries, continents, and communities across the global village to make a difference to life, freedoms, and prosperity in God's kingdom on earth. The venerable Bhagat Puran Singh, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rabindranath Tagore, the young Malala Yosufzai, Bhai Ghannai-yya, Mother Teresa, and countless others are leading us to a world and challenge that is not only outside our familiar and comfort boxes, but is fraught with many unexpected turns and twists, test the full measure of who we are as a people, and invite us to undreamed-of promise. Let us go serve on the "Africa Mercy Ship;" better yet, build our own innovative and creative ships, pioneer daring ideas that provide hope and healing to friends and strangers, and make a difference to all life, our universe, and honor the Commandments of the Creator that reverberate throughout the spiritual and cultural heritage of mankind. We may discover light that we did not know existed outside the box and we may leave a little of our own for others as countless others have exemplified throughout history before us. Dya Singh ji, thank you for your personal testimony of living what you teach. We are glad that you returned safely from your recent pilgrimage to Hemkunt Sahib.

3: Gurpal Singh Bhuller (Chester, Virginia, USA), July 13, 2013, 10:08 AM.

Great article and an even better concept. This is what is needed to allow our Sikh youth to connect, network, exchange ideas and support one another. Although the internet does this to a small extent, the immediacy of personal presence, the mentoring and the conversations will mould young minds in more immediate ways. As our youth embrace the digital age, we will have to shape our views to these new concepts, and what better way to do this than a retreat like this. Unfortunately the fossils sitting in the jathedar seats have no idea as to what sort of world is emerging and how we should accommodate it. So, kudos to you and all the organizers, and I hope others join you to continue this venture - not only in Australia but also in other large centers of the Sikh diaspora.

4: Ash Singh (Singapore), July 13, 2013, 12:13 PM.

Dear Uncle Dya: Thanks for the kind words and detailed write up of our special camp in Australia. As our Guru Sahib said, "Conquer the mind, Conquer the world!" Perhaps we can interpret it as: "Conquer the mind, and you can serve the world." It has been an honour working on this for the last seven years with the amazing sevadars of Sikh Youth Australia.

5: Gurmukh Singh (London, United Kingdom), July 13, 2013, 2:08 PM.

Mention of Master Gurbachan Singh (of Kuala Lipis) by Sangat Singh ji, brings back old memories. We used to stay at his place whenever Bapu ji was invited to do kirtan in that town - then capital of Pahang state (early 1950s). I am not aware that anyone has written about this great progressive mover in Sikh-Malayan affairs for two decades - first giani-granthi sammelans from the early 1950s, and later, Naujawan Sabha seminars. He invited me to talk to young Sikhs at Kuala Lumpur when I was visiting from the UK in 1969. Dya was still at school. Great article and thought-provoking comments above. Even a casual look around the globe tells us that Sikhs have always explored the world outside the box. It started with Guru Nanak! My concern always is the extremes - "the fossils sitting in the jathedar seats" at one end, and, maybe someone like "little brother" Dya Singh pushing towards the other extreme! Even the most progressive thinker should keep his or her feet firmly planted on the ground. Learn from the past, live in the present and think progressively about the future. As we face our own challenges in the UK, to the "fossils" I say: if live in the past, you have no present and, certainly, no future!

6: Rosalia (Baltimore, Maryland, USA), July 13, 2013, 3:58 PM.

This sounds so inspiring! I think even adults can benefit from leadership and management training and thinking/Sikhing outside the box! That said, it also sounds like great fun for the kids!

7: Bhavdeep (USA), July 13, 2013, 7:12 PM.

Great article, Bhai Sahib, and very inspiring. The details and attention to facts in your writing always impresses me and I always walk away inspired. This time is no different.

8: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia ), July 13, 2013, 7:59 PM.

# 5. Gurmukh Singh jio: indeed very little has been written about Master Gurbachan Singh ji as main architect of SNSM. My first contact with him was in 1959 when I was an Assistant Manager, Sua Betong Estate, Port Dickson. He was then still at Pekan (Pahang). Whenever he visited Seremban he would spend a couple of days with us on the plantation. Despite the age difference we got along like a house on fire. He was very much into simran and started me also on that path. He did share some of his inner experiences with me. The concept of a Sikh Naujawan Sabha for youth was very much on his mind. I was his sounding board. This was in 1960/61; by then he was posted in Port Dickson and we met very often. During that time, S. Joginder Singh of Tanjong Malim. a lecturer in the College, and S. Surjit Singh Bassian and later Master Karminder Singh joined the inner circle. First thing we did was to seek te blessings of Sant Sohan Singh ji. We then decided that the name would be "Sikh Naujawan Sabha Malaysia" (SNSM). The Khanda was to be later added as the logo. I even suggested 'Sikh Naujawan Dal'. It was thought that it had militant overtones. It would be SNSM. The ball was set rolling and an application made to the Registrar of Societies. The followed several meetings and undertakings that it would not be in conflict with the country's official religion, Islam. We finally received the approval. Seremban Gurdwara became the first official registered address. I wonder if it still is. Master Gurbachan Singh was quite rightly chosen as the first Jathedar. I think S. Joginder Singh (now in Australia) or the late Surjit Singh Bassian became the Hon. Secretary. I was the first treasurer with no money in the kitty. The subscription was set for ordinary members at RM1/ year and RM10/- for life membership. I think I am still a life member. The first invitee was the most eminent scholar/historian, Dr. Ganda Singh. I was then posted in Seremban and we had the honour to have him stay with us for a week on the plantation. His lecture tours were enthralling. He had quite a few stories to share with us. Just one as a sample: After his lecture in Ipoh Gurdwara, he was to return to Seremban. In a hurry he got in the car and left without his shoes. We supplied him a pair of slippers. The next day he had an appointment to see the Indian High Commissioner Tyabji who was his friend from his days in Aligarh University. I was to drive him there and offered to buy him a pair of shoes. He said, "No, Tyabji is not going to meet my shoes!" So we went, he dressed in a suit and wearing a pair of plastic slippers.

9: Tarun Preet Singh (Perth, Western Australia), July 13, 2013, 8:14 PM.

When is the next Sikh youth leadership program?

10: Prattap Singh (Malaysia), July 14, 2013, 3:18 AM.

Great stuff, and well done ...

11: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), July 14, 2013, 4:30 AM.

let's get some basics right - business people do not serve the world or Guru Nanak would have been the businessman his father wanted him to be. Sikhs are here to learn - not from clever minds thinking in or out of boxes. Sikhs are here to learn from the Gurus about truth. Our Ten Gurus have made the perfect system/structure for life progress and wealth - anyone tampering with is unfortunate.

12: Ravinder Kaur (Chandigarh, Punjab), July 15, 2013, 9:59 AM.

I fail to see what is so "Sikh" about this. There isn't a single mention of the most important thing in the world for Sikhs: The Guru. Perhaps one is taught to worship the idea of making money? Where is the space here for artists and intellectuals? Don't forget that we also have so many -- as in any other community -- who are 'workers' (non-professional: factory workers, taxi-drivers, et., etc.) in our transnational sangat. How can they feel included in such an environment?

13: Manjeet Shergill (Singapore), July 17, 2013, 3:36 AM.

Dya Singh is indeed kind - most Sikh-Malaysians I know are. They have stories to tell and can be rather long winded about them. Sikh sammelans are good get-togethers for young people to meet and many have got married from meeting at such sammelans - all good. I think sammelans do need to be reinvented and be more than a social development unit.

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