Sikh groups rally to help Syrian refugees

Charitable coalition formed across Lower Mainland by Surrey MP

Randeep Sarai

Sikh groups throughout the Lower Mainland have formed a concerted effort to help Syrian refugees any way they can.

In the Central Fraser Valley, two Abbotsford gurdwaras have pledged to offer free meals, clothing and blankets to hundreds of refugees for their first three months in Canada. Along with congregations in Vancouver, Richmond, New Westminster and Surrey, they will carry out a province-wide campaign to connect refugee families with people willing to house them. And the Khalsa School, an independent Sikh school with a new campus in Mission, has offered free tuition to 200 refugee children.

“It fits into the first virtue of our faith, which is to do selfless service,” said Sundeep Kaur, an administrator at the Khalsa School Mission. The school also operates a preschool and child care facility in Abbotsford, where they will offer free spaces for refugees.

Volunteers and representatives from gurdwaras, schools, and community groups from Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley came together at a Nov. 20 forum organized by Surrey Centre MP Randeep Sarai, hoping to contribute whatever they could to the thousands of refugees fleeing unrest in Syria who are expected to settle in British Columbia. They formed a partnership called the Sikh Societies of British Columbia, and now plan to meet regularly for more co-ordinated charity projects.

“We are very excited to help they need all the support,” said Balwant Sanghera, one of the forum’s organizers.

Representatives from the Gurdwara Baba Banda Singh Bahadar, on South Fraser Way, and the Gurdwara Sahib Kalgidhar Darbar, on Blueridge Drive, have pledged to participate by donating food, clothing and bedding. Organizers say they’re in touch with representatives from the Abbotsford Khalsa Diwan Society, who hope to contribute as well.

School-age refugee children and youth receive fully funded seats at public schools. But if they opt for the independent program at Khalsa School, in Miracle Valley north of Mission, the usual $150-per-month tuition will be funded through community donations. The school offers classes in the Punjabi language and Sikh history, as well as time for Sikh religious observance, but they currently offer alternative programming for students of other faiths an option that will be offered to refugees, most of whom are expected to be Muslim or Christian. Schooling takes place in English, but some of the teachers speak Arabic which could help newcomers still working to develop their English skills.

Located on the grounds of a former treatment centre, the Mission school opened for their first year this fall, and currently has 25 students with space for up to 130.

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