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

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 Covid.

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A 'black-tie' event (still not quite sure what it means, western formal perhaps) -

*launch of book: '21 Years of SYA';

*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 SBS (Special Broadcasting Services Australia – even journalist extraordinaire Manpreet K. Singh from Melbourne).

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

The 370 seats fixture was 'sold-out' at $AUD120.00 a head within 2 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.

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' (we know it as the didgeridoo).

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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 gave a speech on the activities of SYA for almost a quarter of a century to date.

This included the establishment of 3 social enterprise programs:

*Young Sikh Professional Network;

*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 (of Gurpuri, Malaysia), Veer Manpreet, Prof Jaswant and myself.

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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 2 years for these charities.

Four ministers including the Leader of the Opposition Mr. Chris Minns were present, including our own S. Gurmesh Singh - member for Coffs Harbour. Ms. Michelle Rowland - Member for Greenway and Shadow Minister for Communications; Hon. Damien Tudehope MLC - Minister for Finance and Employment Relations and Leader of Government in Legislative Council and V. President of the Executive Council; Hon. Mark Coure - Minister for Multiculturalism and Minister for Seniors; and Dr. Geoff Lee - Minister for Corrections.

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

Minister Hon Mark Coure was very impressed with the SYA Future Leaders program.  He remarked that he would like to be involved in this 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.

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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'.

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One special highlight was the 'launch of the very 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 $19000 during the evening.

A very stirring speech was delivered by young aspiring Sikh youth leader Karan Anand, a former Chairperson of YSPN (Young Sikh Professionals Network), 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.

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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.

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.

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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 very successful coming together after two years.

I think the whole fixture was best summed up by my friend Bhavdeep 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."

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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

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