The recipients of the Abbotsford Community Foundation Award 2016 are two 12th graders from the Dasmesh Punjabi School in Abbotsford.
Tripat K. Sandhu and Jaspreet K. Sahota are two extraordinary girls that are making their families and communities proud. They are the co-founders of Sikh Sewa International Society of Youth (SSISY), a non-profit organization carrying out humanitarian activities ranging from feeding the hungry to organizing drives to serve those who need health care support.
But these girls are thinking big. This is what has pushed them to take the SSISY across the seas. “In December 2016, we finally pursued our lifelong dream of organizing an international medical camp,” says Sandhu.
SSISY funded a one-day ophthalmology camp in a rural village in India, sponsoring over 150 eye examinations and surgical procedures. The organization collaborated with India-based Amar Welfare Club, who were able to notify the villagers about the clinic via announcements. Villagers with insufficient funds were provided with treatment at zero cost. Additionally, SSISY sponsored financially-struggling students in India to receive free university education.
It all started in the fall of 2015 when Sandhu and Sahota saw a story in the newspaper about the Abbotsford Food Bank’s depleting shelves. This propelled the girls to take action. “We realized [that] there must be additional ways we could make a more personal and more significant difference. This desire led both of us to establish our nonprofit organization, Sikh Sewa International Society of Youth (SSISY),” says Sahota.
To fulfill this goal, they have held two annual bottle drives raising over $3,600 so far. They also organize bi-monthly soup kitchens for underprivileged citizens of the city by collaborating with The Salvation Army, Cyrus Centre, and Warm Zone.
But the realization of every big dream stumbles upon roadblocks. The first one they faced was that initially many local organizations and businesses refused to recognize their efforts, making it difficult to receive sponsorship and to network further. Others felt that they were just two high schoolers who would not be able to manage such a project logistically. But they persisted. “Due to our young age, many people doubted our abilities. They were unable to recognize our earnest and sincere intentions in bringing positive change to our community,” says Sandhu.
Both girls credit their families for providing them with the kind of support that was needed to manage such a project. For Sandhu, her mother has been her greatest inspiration. “She has inspired me to better the lives of others and start initiatives in the community and has continuously encouraged me to advocate for myself and for others who are unable to do so.”
Sahota expresses gratitude to her father for leading her through. “From a young age he has taught me about giving back to the community and always helping others. This has led me to acquiring his character traits and being able to create a positive change in my community.”
Both Sandhu and Sahota are now heading to university where they plan to continue SSISY’s legacy. “We have found that this is our opportunity to provincially expand and welcome more passionate and determined youth to our organization,” they say.
Sandhu will be attending the University of the Fraser Valley to complete her degree on Criminal Justice on a $40,000 scholarship. She aspires to be a human rights lawyer some day. Sahota on the other hand will be attending the University of British Columbia to complete her Bachelors of Science and hopes to become an optometrist.