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Saturday, July 29, 2006

Camp helps Sikh youth find comfort in America

Release Date: 07/29/2006 06:55:36 AM PDT
News Source: InsideBayArea.com

By Jonathan Jones, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area

FREMONT — Karandeep Singh Sasan stood outside the Gurdwara Sahib of Fremont in traditional garb: a blue robe and turban, an iron bracelet and a sword.

"What's up," the energetic young Sikh said to a visitor. Then, he explained: "I always say, 'What's up' when somebody new comes to the gurdwara. I want to make friends with everyone who comes here."

Multiethnic societies stress tolerance, respect and understanding for cultural differences, but many communities also are teaching their youth to understand their heritage and roots so they can educate the greater community.

That was evident Friday among the 270 youth who participated in the Sikh summer camp.

For six weeks, these children, some in hip-hop T-shirts and others in NBA basketball jerseys, have spent their time at the gurdwara, where they learn math, martial arts, creative writing and scriptures.

Ram Singh, a member of the gurdwara's Supreme Council, said those born in the United States practice reading the sacred Gurmukhi scriptures in Punjabi, while newcomers to America also can use this time to brush up on their English.

The camp is the brainchild of Union City residents Sarabjit and Pritam Singh Cheema, who urged the gurdwara's leaders to encourage young adults to volunteer to mentor and counsel the younger ones in Sikh traditions.

Pritam Cheema said he hopes the camp gives Sikh youth a sense of belonging and an opportunity to make new friends, as well as give parents some much-needed breathing room.

"As a parent, I always felt like my kids had to get out of the house," Pritam Cheema said. "If they don't, they'll sit in front of the TV or by the computer all day, and I wasn't comfortable (with that)."

On Friday, after praising their gurus, the children received certificates of recognition for spending their summer at the camp.

Some of the younger campers, many of whom are recent immigrants, said the camp has helped them to understand how to deal with discrimination.

Pawanjot Kaur, 10, moved to the United States from India in December with her mother and 18-year-old brother to live with their father. When she went to school, she said she struggled to make friends and talk to the teacher because of her English skills.

"At first I felt like America wasn't my country," Kaur said. "But now I feel like it's my country. At the gurdwara, I get to see a lot of other kids and make new Indian friends and I play with them. When I come to the gurdwara, it feels like I'm in India."

Organizers say they hope to stress community involvement and loyalty to their religion, as well as help the children see that they're not alone.

"We're living in two cultures," said Pritam Cheema, referring to the Indo-American experience. "Sometimes (Sikhs) come to America and feel like they're alone. So when they come here, it provides an opportunity for these kids to meet each other and learn their history and traditions so that they understand their identity."

AUTUR SINGH spins a chakkar, used in a Sikh martial art called gatka, as he and fellow students rehearse their skills for a performance during summer camp.  (Anda Chu - Inside Bay Area Staff)

AUTUR SINGH spins a chakkar, used in a Sikh martial art called gatka, as he and fellow students rehearse their skills for a performance during summer camp. (Anda Chu - Inside Bay Area Staff)


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