Phoenix Arizona Sikhs enhance awareness in their community.

Novel Approach taken by the Sikhs of Arizona...

Ever since the completion of Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Memorial Sikh Community Center and adjoining Gurdwara Sahib, an extraordinary building complex of over 19000 square feet on a foot hill overlooking loop 101 in Northwest Phoenix, Arizona, this architectural beauty has become an object of attraction and curiosity. Travelers on Loop 101 that encircles Phoenix Metro often stop to inquire as to what this beautiful structure with its 9 shining acrylic 24 carat Gold-plated domes stands for and to which community does it belong? For almost close to 5 years, Mrs. Bhagwant Kaur Rangi, an active Sikh Community outreach Sevadaar has been running programs for Senior Sikhs at this Community Center and other places. Upon realizing that several American groups of different faiths are expressing interest to learn more about this unique Gurdwara Sahib and the Sikhs, she contacted the author, Dr. Sachdev. A special educational program was then put together to achieve the ultimate objective of enhancing awareness about Sikhs and their unique identity among the residents of greater Phoenix area, thanks to the curiosity generated by this beautiful 'House of God.'

Whenever now different community centers, adult homes, schools and colleges contact Mrs. Rangi to learn more about this unique place and its occupants, she encourages them to arrange a group for a visit to the Gurdwara Sahib-cum-Sikh Center. These visits are encouraged in the form of a tour on a pre-arranged Saturday. Thus far this year, three groups of about 70 individuals each, belonging to different adjoining cities of Phoenix metro have been received in Gurdwara Sahib on three different occasions  and imparted education about the Sikhs. These groups arrive in buses. Upon their arrival, about 15-20 Sikh volunteers stand ready at the door to welcome them and serve them with cold water. They are then led then to the Sikh awareness Room of Gurdwara Sahib, Nishkaam Seva that otherwise serves as Punjabi School on Sundays.

A special Powerpoint talk is then presented by Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev. It covers Sikh history, Sikh principles, salient teachings of Sri Guru Granth Sahib ji in relation to equality for mankind and gender, justice for all, concept of serving the needy, lack of caste system and Sikh sacrifices for other faiths. The issue of Sikh identity and Sikh turban is especially highlighted. The history of arrival of Sikhs in North America, their achievements, their participation in WWI and WWII is then shown with pictorial slides. Further on, the achievements of the prominent Sikhs of Arizona is also touched upon. Dr. Saini Memorial Foundation's gift of community Center and Gurdwara Sahib Nishkaam Seva to the Sikh Community as well as foundation's other philanthropic acts are enumerated. Finally, the aftermath of 9-11 affecting Sikh community including a senseless retaliatory killing of Balbir Singh Sodhi in Mesa, Arizona is discussed. The remedial measures and activities that have been undertaken by local Sikh community are then brought forth. The entire presentation lasts for about 45 minutes.

This is followed by a question answer session where young local Sikh Professionals are asked to volunteer to answer and respond to the questions related to the curiosity of the visitors about Sikhs and their faith. A visit to the Gurdwara Sahib Sanctuary then follows, where Kirtan is rendered by Raagi Jetha for about 10 minutes. Concomitant translation in English is provided to the guests for their comprehension. They are then guided to adjoining Dr. Jasbir Singh Saini Sikh community center-cum lungar hall, where fresh and hot delicious Lungar prepared by several volunteer Sikh families, awaits them.

The entire tour lasts for about two and half hours. This program has been rated by our visitors to be greatly helpful in their awareness about their next door neighbors, the Sikhs. Immediately the next day following the program, messages start pouring in from the families and friends of those who have attended the session requesting to arrange similar kind of informative session for them too. We personally believe that such kinds of endeavors are very helpful in providing direly needed knowledge and awareness about Sikhs, their identity and their contributions to the society at-large. With such a program, we sincerely hope that there will be lesser incidences of hate crimes against Sikhs who don't fit the usual pattern of Tom, Dick and Harry around them.

-By Dr. Jaswant Singh Sachdev, MD Phoenix, AZ

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