Helping others without any intentions and with a pure heart is a deed greater than any other, and it can be done in numerous and simplest ways.
As Sikhs celebrate Vaisakhi and look forward to a New Year, Guru Nanak De’s principles can be an ideal guideline for living a fulfilling life ahead. The three principles are: earn an honest living (kirat karna), keeping God in mind at all times (naam japna), and sharing and selfless service (vand chakna). The three duties that a Sikh must carry out can be summed up in three simple words – pray, work and give.
Selfless service or seva is an important value that must be practised in one’s life. Helping others without any intentions and with a pure heart is a deed greater than any other, and can be done in numerous and simplest ways.
The Sikh community in British Columbia is known for its generosity and giving nature. Seva is one of the pillars of the community, and the young and old are active participants in helping those in need. There are a few community members and organizations who are not only involved in selfless seva locally but globally and in various parts of India as well. From helping build schools to feeding the hungry and encouraging girl and women empowerment, these inspiring people and organizations are examples of what it means to selflessly give and an encouragement for others to do the same.
Here are a few of the individuals and social groups that need special mention.
For Raj Arneja, seva and volunteering was instilled in her since she was a young girl. “When our parents showed empathy to a cause, we [Raj and her sisters] tried to make our contributions to whatever it was. We understood we were helping in some way, large or small and we loved being connected to other people who worked toward the common goal,” shares Arneja.
Arneja has been an active participant in the growth of the local community. “I practice seva because the optimist inside me sees that even a little of my time is worth it,” shares Arneja who has volunteered her time and energy to various organizations. She is a Board Member at Seva Thrift Store Society and Vancouver International Film Festival; and is regularly involved with the Mamta Foundation, Surrey Memorial Hospital, and CKNW Orphans Fund and other organizations. “When I’m involved with an organization, I commit myself wholeheartedly to ensuring the success of a program or cause,” adds Arneja, describing seva as “a cure for the sole.”
She has volunteered (with her kids) at Surrey’s homeless shelter, Front Room; produced a charitable event in support of the Boys & Girls Club to help combat bullying; and organized the “Light of Hope” fundraiser in support of two all-girl orphanages in India. Internationally, Arneja has supported organizations such as the Jyoti Sarup and Unique Home orphanages in Punjab, Surrinder Kainth medical camps in India, Mukermuji School in Kenya, and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. She has also been fostering two children for over 12 years through Plan Canada.
Arneja encourages people to volunteer. “Volunteering not only benefits your community, but it is a great sense of accomplishment for anyone as an individual. You start feeling good about the service you do and because you do it selflessly, you start feeling happy and content.”
Raj is the Director of Community Engagement and Philanthropy at Nanak Foods
Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen
Started in British Columbia in 2007, Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen
(GNFK) is a Sikh-faith led volunteer organization working for the benefit of ALL communities. Its objective is to enrich people’s lives through the principles of Guru Nanak Dev ji.
“The Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen team operates on the concept of Love All Feed All. This project is not missionary in nature; instead, it is an opportunity for us to extend the true Sikh spirit of helping those in need regardless of caste, colour, creed, gender, economic status or religion,” says Tej Kaur, GNFK’s Board of Director. Tej has been involved in preparation of food, serving downtown, delivering to shelters, taking part in planning and coordinating outreach events at GNFK.
GNKF volunteer, Perminder Kaur, says “doing seva brings me so much joy and satisfaction, which is unparalleled to anything else I do in my life.” She advices others to find a cause they are passionate about. “When people care about a cause, they are more likely to give of themselves.”
GNKF serves 600 meals every Sunday and at various other times throughout the year. The volunteers prepare fresh meals at the Gurudwara and serve them in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. In addition to the weekly seva, GNFK does several outreach events throughout the year. Valentines’ Day, Mother’s Day Simran, School Supplies Drive, Cupcake Event (for Guru Nanak Dev ji’s Gurpurb) and Toy Drive have been successful in serving emergency homeless shelters, women’s shelters, transition homes, modular homes and many inner-city schools across the Lower Mainland.
Tej encourages everyone to do seva stating that “it is a basic human need; all it takes for each of us is to find an avenue to be able to give back to the community.”
Parminder Atwal, co-founder and director of Royal King Palace and Conventional Center
in Surrey, has been religiously following the three principles of Guru Nanak Dev since a young age. Back in Punjab, India, Atwal was regularly involved in selfless service in his community and village. After his move to Canada, he continued the practise by doing langar seva at Vaisakhi parades, feeding the hungry and homeless on East Hastings Street, and doing other good deeds. “When an organization wants to do a fundraiser at Royal King Palace, we do what we can to help them. We try to help as many organizations we can and will continue to do so in the future,” adds Atwal.
Education holds a special place in Atwal’s heart; in February 2019 he opened a primary school at his village, Talwandi Bharo in Jalandhar district of Punjab. “Education is the best gift we can give to children for their bright future; it is the best seva,” says Atwal, who decided to build the school three years ago after seeing the lack of basic facilities at the government schools in his village. “The water was contaminated. In some schools, even the teachers didn’t have chairs to sit on. The first year, we provided furniture, water filters, shoes and basic supplies. We started building the school following year.” Atwal shares that he could be of help because of the endless support of his parents and family. “My parents helped with establishing the school and visit India every year and do seva at the school.”
Since the last five years, Atwal has also been giving scholarship money to the other schools in the village. “We present the scholarship to the top three students excelling academically from grades 6 to 10. I want to encourage kids to study so that they can have a bright future,” says Atwal humbly.
Mamta Foundation of Canada
Founded by Makhan Deo and his wife Gurbaksh, Mamta Foundation of Canada
is a non-religious, non-political society that aims to support the moral, social, cultural and economic uplift of orphan, unwanted, abandoned and poor children around the world while fighting against female foeticide and standing up for gender equality and women’s empowerment.
The Surrey-based organization constructed and runs three home building sites for abandoned and orphan girls in Punjab – Unique Home in Jalandhar City, Jyoti Sarup Kanya Asra in Kharar and Prabh Aasra in Padiala. “Currently we have 135 girls Jyoti Sarup Kanya Asra in Kharar,” mentions Makhan, who strives to provide a better quality of life for these girls and increase awareness of those suffering from gender discrimination.
Through its work, the organization also intends to bring awareness to the injustices faced by women and girls in local communities in the Lower Mainland and across Canada. Makhan defines seva as “giving your precious moments of your life for the betterment of society. You contribute your time or money and anything that you can do for society. That is called seva according to Mamta Foundation and we are devoted towards it.”
Monetary support helps provide education, better buildings, and necessities such as food and medicine to the three orphanages in India that Mamta Foundation supports. The organization holds an annual function aimed at raising both funds and awareness for their cause. The team also actively participates at the Vaisakhi parades in Vancouver and Surrey, where they reach out to people and seek donations.
Baldev Singh Bath
Baldev Singh Bath, founder of Basant Motors
, is known in the community for his generosity and support towards various social causes. The Bath family regularly involves itself in the community and promotes and generates fund to various causes. Several years ago, Basant Motors was involved in a diabetes fundraiser and collected $70,000 to help combat the health condition.
Basant Motors’ annual scholarship contest is another aspect through which Bath and his family give back to the community and young generation. The scholarship was started by Bath who believes that giving back to worthy causes is as an integral part of doing business. The first scholarship was organized along with Basant’s 25th anniversary in 2016, where $15,000 was awarded to six students selected from multiple applicants. Bath understood what an impact and encouragement the scholarship is for young students, and decided to turn it into a permanent annual event. In 2018, $27,000 was awarded to 10 students from across Metro Vancouver.
Basant Motors is also committed to participating and contributing to community events, charity galas, and sports functions. The past years, Bath has also being organizing a local event, Zindagi De Rubroo – an evening filled with music, poetry, drama and entertainment. Recently, Basant Motors organized their Cars for Compassion Giveaway to help families in need by providing them with a reliable pre-owned vehicle.
Dr. Gurdev Singh Gill
As president of India Canada Village Improvement Trust (ICVIT
) & Indo Canadian Friendship Society of British Columbia (ICFSBC
), Dr. Gurdev Singh Gill has devoted his energy and finances to charity, and championing projects to provide rural Indian villages with sanitary living conditions, clean drinking water, public health and rural infrastructure upgrades.
Primarily based in Punjab, India, ICVIT has been executing village lifestyle improvement projects since 2007. The organization’s mission is to provide rural Indian villages with: access to clean drinking water; sewerage disposal systems; paved village streets with concrete; solar street lighting; computers in school if none available; sanitary living condition; governance; empowerment of women’ and other infrastructural upgrades. In 2011, ICVIT installed totally solar powered ultra filtration water purification plant in collaboration with Aqua Infinitum of Switzerland, that produces 10,000 litres of water daily, given of free of charge to the village in Hoshiarpur district in Punjab.
ICVIT is southerly partner of ICFSBC, founded by Dr. Gill in 1976. ICFSBC has been active in all type of social work in Greater Vancouver area since initiation. It has devoted its energies in international rural development in Punjab. Dr. Gill has finished multiple eco-friendly sustainable comprehensive village projects, where he was personally involved in all aspects of development.
Dr. Gill’s ICFSBC has completed the development of over 20 villages. Upon completion of each project, there was a marked difference in the health and hygiene of the inhabitants in these villages. There was also a significant decrease in the incidence of common infections diseases. Besides his selfless work with these two organizations, Dr. Gill has been active in fundraising for the Cancer Society, Rotary Club and the Children’s Hospital.