World Interfaith Harmony Week 2017 Event on Forgiving and Reconciling in a Contemporary World: A call to action

Group photo of some of the attendees at the end of the event

The event opened with a prayer invoking God’s mercy and blessings. ‘The Power of Forgiveness and Reconciliation in our Contemporary World’ was the title of the forum on peace held on 4th February 2017 by the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The event was attended by a diverse audience with people from many different faith groups and parts of the world.

Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh addresses the audience.

Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh addresses the audience.

The event supported by Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and hosted by the Nishkam Civic Association, took place during World Interfaith Harmony Week (UN resolution of 2010). The Charter has been supported and developed by a number of organisations including the Fetzer Institute, Guerrand-Hermès Foundation for Peace, and Religions for Peace.

Dr Josef Boehle, Director of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation, spoke first, reading out part of the Statement of Vision and Purpose, which states that “the activity of forgiving is vital if healing and reconciliation is to take place, as part of our collective efforts to seek restorative justice and sustainable peace.”

“Fostering and practicing forgiveness has the power to transform deep-seated responses

Tariq Jahan raises the emotional level by sharing a heart moving experience

Tariq Jahan raises the emotional level by sharing a heart moving experience

to memories and legacies of injustice, conflict and war. It can liberate people from being imprisoned in their pasts and long ingrained mental and emotional conditions created by such legacies.”

Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh OBE KSG, Chairman of the Nishkam Civic Association and Co-Convenor of the Charter, spoke of forgiveness as originating from the Divine, and said a prayer, which spoke of seeking God’s help. He went on to speak about how forgiveness is essential in a   fractured world, and that “the whole of humanity is one family” who are all “interconnected and interdependent”. The root cause of conflict was also touched upon: “everything starts in the human mind. Humanity needs to start address the human mind very seriously”

John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry Cathedral

John Witcombe, Dean of Coventry Cathedral

Tariq Jahan, who suffered a personal tragedy when his son was killed during riots in 2011, gave a touching speech about his feelings and questions over forgiveness: ‘Do I forgive? How much do I really forgive? Then I think, how much does God forgive? He forgives all of us, on a daily basis. We all make mistakes.” Following the event, Tariq Jahan stated that “events like this soothe the heart”, and added that “we need to include the youth into these processes. As it is the younger generation who are the future and also need to learn about forgiveness.”

The bombing of Coventry Cathedral in 1940 led to an astonishing example of forgiveness

Ciaran Norris Director of Rising shared a perspective from Coventry & Global input

Ciaran Norris Director of Rising shared a perspective from Coventry & Global input

and reconciliation. The Dean of Coventry Cathedral, John Witcombe, was among the speakers, and reflected on the values of “honesty, hope and healing” which were integral to the rebuilding of the Cathedral following the bombing, and how the ruins represented a “physical embodiment of what happens in a world where we cannot work together.”

Ciaran Norris, Director of Rising Global Peace Forum, which is based in Coventry, spoke about having the capacity to forgive in a society where “things we have taken for certain are no longer certain”, and where facts are often distorted and the truth becomes difficult to find.

Rana Nazir, Founder British Kashmiri Women's Council

Rana Nazir, Founder British Kashmiri Women’s Council

Rana Nazir, founder of the British Kashmiri Women’s Council, reflecting on the long history of suffering and violent conflicts in the world and in Kashmir, highlighted the urgency that we “need to make our world a peaceful sanctuary for everyone.  Reconciliation is forgiveness in action – forgiveness and reconciliation can lead to a stronger bond than previously existed.”

Jorge Ravagli Cardona, a PhD Student from the University of Birmingham, provided an overview of the history of the decades-long conflict in Colombia and the recent peace agreement reached there between the government and the FARC. Looking forward he emphasized that “the messages themselves of dialogue for conflict-resolution and of forgiveness have to transcend the

Prof Pal Ahluwalia, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth

Prof Pal Ahluwalia, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth

political realm directly involved in the negotiation and reach the people, in order to transform the vicious circle of hate, insensitivity and exclusion.”

Mr Bill Ozanne conveyed greetings from the Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, Bernard Longley, and recalled parts of an address Pope Francis gave at the Interreligious Audience on 3rd November 2016 during the Jubilee Year of Mercy of the Roman-Catholic Church.

Professor Pal Ahluwalia, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Portsmouth, stated that “forgiveness and compassion are powerful instruments”, and underlined the importance for both individuals and the whole world to “rise above malice”.

Attendees discuss Forgiveness & Reconciliation in group workshops

Attendees discuss Forgiveness & Reconciliation in group workshops

The forum featured video clips of His Holiness Pope Francis, HM Queen Elizabeth II, and as the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, sent his apologies for the event, his New Year 2017 message talking about forgiveness and reconciliation was shared with all the attendees. This was followed by other religious leaders from different faiths speaking on the subject of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Pope Francis, in his speech at Clementine Hall on 3rd November 2016, said “forgiveness is surely the greatest gift we can give to others because it is the most costly. Yet at the same time, it is what makes us most like God.”

Speaking about the forum, Dr Josef Boehle stated “The Peace Forum on Forgiveness and Reconciliation takes place today as part of World Interfaith Harmony week in Birmingham. The vision of the Charter is to make a contribution to processes of forgiveness and reconciliation not only between individuals, communities and states, but also between faith traditions.”

Bhai Sahib, also speaking on the forum and the nature of forgiveness, stated that “the highest and the best form of human generosity and benevolence is forgiveness”. He then summarised and closed the event a prayer of thanks.

The event was clearly a landmark development in the journey towards sharing, inviting input and inspiring collaboration from like-minded people in support of the Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation. The participants left the event full of praise having been part of World Interfaith Harmony Week 2017 event at the Nishkam Centre.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

For more information:

Sikh migration project launch: How will you tell your story?

Guests at the launch of ‘My Story-Our Journey’ at the Nishkam Centre

Guests at the launch of ‘My Story-Our Journey’ at the Nishkam Centre

“We are all refugees and migrants on this planet”, said Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh (OBE KSG, Chairman of Nishkam Civic Association), during the launch of the Sikh Migration research project at the Nishkam Centre on 25th January 2017 to an audience keen to participate in the project. “Where did I come from? “Where are your roots? What is my destination?”

The questions posed describe the essence of the project ‘My Story- Our Journey’, launched by the Nishkam Civic Association. The Sikh migration project, secured a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), aims to capture the retrospective journey of the Sikh population in Birmingham and the Black Country, from the first generation to the current day, through collecting oral histories from those who have experienced and grown up with the migrant journey.

The launch was attended by the project’s steering committee members, which included Councillor Preet K Gill (Sandwell) Suwinder Bains, Partnership and Community Engagement Manager (Birmingham City Council), Jasbir Singh Uppal (University of Wolverhampton), Manjeet

Guests arriving, networking and sharing stories

Guests arriving, networking and sharing stories

Kaur (Media and Heritage Volunteer) and Surinder Singh, Electoral officer (Sandwell) who said “As a person who has a strong connection with working in both Birmingham and the Black Country it was wonderful to see so many people showing a passionate interest and also a willingness to work together on this unique project. With this passion and energy I am sure ‘My Story – Our Journey’ will create a lasting legacy for the contribution of the Sikh Community in our region and  we look forward to seeing and hearing some wonderful and amazing stories”

The diverse audience also included author Jatinder Kaur, who is currently promoting her recent biography of her father, Bhai Sahib Rajinder Singh Ji, titled ‘Chalda Vaheer Jatha: A Spiritual Journey’.

Jatinder briefly spoke about her father’s journey to the UK, settling in Dudley, and the motives behind the transition. She wrote the biography with the help of her father’s diary, which was his ‘voice and guidance’ in writing the book. In her journey in capturing his story, she conducted face-to-face interviews with each person he had met on his international travels in promoting Sikh values, and discovered first-hand the feelings behind the stories of persecution and challenged identity.

Jatinder Kaur: Author of 'Chalda Vaheer Jatha: A Spiritual Journey'.

Jatinder Kaur: Author of ‘Chalda Vaheer Jatha: A Spiritual Journey’.

Rachel Chui (HLF, Committee Member for the West Midlands) was also among the speakers. After hearing the detailed account of the aims and timescales of the project, she spoke about her thoughts on the research: “Heritage is about the intangible – you can’t touch stories. People from all walks of life can contribute to the various histories and shared experiences.” Rachel poignantly added that we have “more in common than our differences.”

Ajit Singh, Contracts Manager (Nishkam Centre) and Inderdeep Kaur Shambi, Project Lead, gave a detailed account of how the project started, and the proposed deliverables.

The project aims to record and collate 30 oral histories, ranging from first generation migrants to the present, and whilst doing so, recruit and train a large number of volunteers with a variety of skills. Photographs will also be collected, which will be used in the touring exhibitions at a number of high profile locations, including the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, University of Wolverhampton among many others.

A website will also be developed, to include all the collated research in an accessible and user-friendly format. The project will leave a visible legacy after its completion, in the form of a publication and all contributions will be archived at the Library of Birmingham and Sandwell Archives and an education toolkit will be developed for local schools, encouraging young students to learn about oral history, stories and migration in fun and engaging ways.

The launch received positive feedback from those who attended, Ravinderjit Kaur Briah, a lecturer at De Montfort University, said the project

Listening attentively on how ‘My Story – Our Journey’ will be encapsulated

Listening attentively on how ‘My Story – Our Journey’ will be encapsulated

was an “inspiration”, and this had been a “long time coming and well overdue”. She added that the project would “provide a springboard for so many other projects, and will leave a lasting legacy.”

The ‘My Story-Our Journey’ project has already received coverage from BBC Midlands Today and is capturing the attention of not only the Sikh community, but also all those intrigued by remembering and sharing stories which would otherwise be left untold and

uncaptured.  Satnam Rana (Midlands Today) discussed with the team possible future input and her own very personal stories.

In order to create a full tapestry of Sikh migration in Birmingham and The Black Country the project is looking to interview and collaborate with a diverse range of Sikh voices as well as collate personal photographs that depict moments in time.

The project is also keen to capture experiences of non-Sikh people who have had experiences or opportunities of working or living with Sikhs.

If you would like to share your story or volunteer to help with the project, please get in touch with Inderdeep Kaur at inderdeep.kaur@ncauk.org or visit http://nishkamcentre.org/arts-culture-heritage/birmingham-black-country-sikh-migration-story/volunteer-project/

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Takhat Sri Harmandir Ji, Patna Sahib delegation meets Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding 350th Prakash Purb of Sri Guru Gobind Singh Ji taking place in January 2017

delegation-with-prime-minister-1A delegation from Takhat Sri Harmandir Ji, Patna Sahib met with the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi today at Parliament House, to invite him to attend the 350th Prakash Purb of Guru Gobind Singh Ji at the Takhat Sahib, during the first week of January 2017. The Prime Minister gladly accepted the invite to attend.

The Prime Minister mentioned that the Central Government would look to work with the Bihar State Government regarding long term development plans beneficial to Patna City residents.

The delegation included President of the Takhat Prabhandak Committee, Avtar Singh
Makkar; General Secretary of the Takhat Prabhandak Committee, Sarjinder Singh; Chairman of the Takhat Celebration Committee, Gurinder Pal Singh; Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Religious Leader of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ); and Inderjit Singh, Projects Director of GNNSJ India, the charitable organisation responsible for the major beautification, restoration and conservation work taking place to prepare the Takaht for the sacred celebrations.delegation-with-prime-minister-2

delegation-with-prime-minister-3

Birmingham & Black Country Sikh Migration Story project up and running thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund

big-lottery

The Nishkam Civic Association has been granted £80,000 by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to develop and deliver a project on ‘The Birmingham & Black Country Sikh Migration Story’. The project will capture the retrospective journey of the Sikh population in Birmingham and the Black Country, from the first generation to the current day.

The research will explore the sociological, political and economic perspectives to gain a rounded, contextual understanding of the migration. The project will not only focus on the history of the collective migration drivers, but also on individual narratives, to truly understand the change and impact on each migrant life. The famous Mandla vs Lee case will be explored, as an example of how the migrants worked with, and mostly resolved, the inevitable clash of cultures and ideals.

Vanessa Harbar, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, said: “We’re delighted that HLF support will enable the Nishkam Civic Association to capture the rich heritage of Sikh migration in Birmingham and the Black Country. The research will help members of the Sikh community, as well as the wider community, to explore and appreciate the economic, cultural and social contribution of their forebears. Thank you to the National Lottery Players who have made this possible.”

The project which has taken nearly two years to develop will involve collaborations with a number of organisations, including Birmingham Museum Trust, University of Wolverhampton, Library of Birmingham, Sandwell Archives Services, Nishkam School Trust, Wolverhampton Art Gallery, Sandwell MBC and many more.

Volunteers for the project will engage with first, second and third generation Sikhs to capture their individual stories of migration, and historical research will be carried out to contextualise the Sikh migration experience. A touring exhibition will also be curated for display in the main gallery of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for a number of months, after which it will be displayed in other prominent locations over the West Midlands.

Toolkits will be developed for local schools to accompany their learning, and a publication will also be produced, capturing the research and outputs of the project. A microsite will be will be used to collate the research, share the oral history ‘stories’ and photographs, videos and other findings. Archives will eventually be deposited at the Library of Birmingham and at Sandwell Archive Services, so the history of how the Sikhs came to Birmingham and the Black Country can be accessed by all now and in the future.

Sewa Singh Mandla (Trustee, Nishkam Civic Association) stated: ‘We greatly appreciate the contribution made towards the project by HLF, as it will mean the history of the Sikhs migrating to Birmingham and the Black Country will not go undocumented. The research will give us a deeper insight into how lives were (and are) impacted by this change, and will allow us to reflect on the great endurance and strength demonstrated by the Sikh migrants.’

For more information about the project, please contact Ajit Ubhi, Nishkam Civic Association.

 

ENDS

Notes to editors

About Nishkam Civic Association

The Nishkam Civic Association (NCA) was established in 2003, a relatively new and unique organisation charged with the task of developing a dynamic Sikh faith inspired civic agenda. It is one of the Five Centres for Excellence founded by Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ), a Sikh faith-based organisation dedicated to nishkam sewa (active, selfless volunteering) to serve the common good. For more information, visit http://www.nishkamcentre.org/about-us/

About the Heritage Lottery Fund

Using money raised through the National Lottery, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) aims to make a lasting difference for heritage, people and communities across the UK and help build a resilient heritage economy. From museums, parks and historic places to archaeology, natural environment and cultural traditions, we invest in every part of our diverse heritage. HLF has supported almost 36,000 projects with more than £5.9bn across the UK.

http://www.hlf.org.uk

For further information, images and interviews, please contact

Ajit Ubhi at Nishkam Civic Association on ajit.singh@ncauk.org.uk

 

 

Santander grant to enhance services to the community

santanderOn Friday 29th July 2016 senior members of Santander visited the Nishkam Centre to present a cheque for £5,000 from the Santander Foundation. This was a great opportunity to share information and better understand each other’s organisation. The Santander Foundation is at the heart of the bank’s community activities, providing grants to small charities and social enterprises working with disadvantaged people to fund skills, knowledge and innovation projects across the UK. The grant will enable the Centre to upgrade the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) suite and to provide essential services.

Ravinder Singh Sidhu, Branch Director from the Financial Centre in Birmingham and Branch Manager, Harry Singh Saggu, visited the Nishkam Centre to meet with Amrick Singh, Nishkam Centre Director and Narinder Kaur, who developed and submitted the application. The meeting enabled the two organisations better understand each other’s priorities and activities and to discuss future collaboration. The grant was awarded by the Santander Foundation to upgrade the Nishkam Centre’s ICT suite. Opening the meeting Amrick Singh offered thanks on behalf of the Board, the team at the Nishkam Centre and all beneficiaries for the support Santander had provided to the Nishkam Centre.

The Nishkam Centre prides itself on the services that it provides, in particular those that are provided free at the point of use. The influx of mature and sometimes non-English-speaking people, with limited computer skills who wish to learn how to use a computer, has presented a challenge for the centre with the ageing equipment.

Ravinder Singh Sidhu and Harry Singh Saggu (both centre) present cheque to Amrick Singh and Narinder Kaur (L & R)

Ravinder Singh Sidhu and Harry Singh Saggu (both centre) present cheque to Amrick Singh and Narinder Kaur (L & R)

The grant will allow disadvantaged people to achieve basic knowledge and up-skill individuals in the use of computers.  Having the skills and access to IT will allow people to become self-sufficient in form filling, carrying out job searches and applying for jobs. Learning how to shop online will also enable individuals to make better use of their, often limited, funds as they will be able to buy goods more competitively and shop around for services such as utilities.

Narinder Kaur, who coordinates the Sikh Rogi Aasra (Chaplaincy Services) Team said, “The grant will go a long way to helping us provide the much needed services in the community. We were elated to hear the application had been successful and this is great news for the community.”

Having Ravinder and Harry present the cheque to the team at the Centre was a fantastic opportunity for the Santander team to better understand and appreciate the work of the centre. During the meeting the Santander team were impressed with everything the Nishkam Centre was doing to make a difference to the lives of the local, regional and international communities. They were particularly interested in how the Nishkam Centre, a Sikh inspired organisation that is sometimes misconceived to be only for the Sikhs / Punjabis was engaging with so many diverse communities across Birmingham.

Amrick Singh took great pleasure in explaining to the visitors the significance and ethos that underpinned all the activities that the Nishkam Centre and the Nishkam Group undertakes. He articulated the importance and significance of understanding the brand, ‘Nishkam’ – which literally translated means selfless service to all without expectation of reward or recompense. Both Ravinder and Harry were also impressed by the diverse variety of activities that were undertaken by the small team at the centre with the support of many volunteers yet managed to reach out to so many in a super-diverse city.

Ravinder Singh said: “We are always looking for opportunities to support local charities and communities in the great work that they do. The Santander Foundation makes hundreds of donations

(L-R) Amrick Singh, Ravinder Singh and Harry Singh in the newly refurbished ICT Suite

(L-R) Amrick Singh, Ravinder Singh and Harry Singh in the newly refurbished ICT Suite

every year to good causes throughout the UK. We are committed to playing a key part in the community and are delighted to be supporting the Nishkam Centre in this way and we hope the donation makes a real difference to local people. Having seen the ICT suite I am impressed with the new kit, the setup and the usage that this equipment will get at the centre. We look forward to further supporting this very worthy cause in the future.”

Ravinder Singh and Harry Singh were delighted to have a tour of the upgraded ICT suite after the cheque presentation and buffet lunch, giving them the opportunity to observe the results of the funding and some of the learners who benefitted.

After the meeting, Amrick Singh said, “It was inspiring to meet like-minded individuals from an organisation that was keen to work with community groups, charities and the third sector to see how they could support activities. It would be very difficult for us as an organisation to self-finance all the activities that we do and still offer them to those disadvantaged and deprived without the support of partners who enable us to provide the services that we do. Our parent organisation Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) has always stood by us and supported us in our time of need, and it is the support of other organisations like Santander who visited today, and all the other partners that have funded us in the past, that we have a great debt of gratitude.

“The meeting was very positive insofar as it enabled us to have a conversation around Santander’s charitable activities and some of the challenges the Nishkam Centre and other partner organisations were facing regarding grants. I must say we look forward to working with organisations like Santander to see how we continue to support the disadvantaged communities that we work with and serve.

 

Nishkam volunteer completes gruelling 130 mile bike ride to raise funds for Queen Elizabeth Hospital

To look at Tarlok Singh Virdee is your average 60 year old from Leicester’s Sikh community. However, the Nishkam volunteer is prone to taking on something quite extraordinary be it weightlifting, cycling, donating or pushing his body to the limit.

mr virdee
The year has been difficult for him and his family with the loss of two of his brothers Salinder Singh and Jasbir Singh. In memory of his brothers, he is participated in a 130 mile Sikh Arts and Cultural Association (SACA) Charity Bike Ride. The funds raised will provide a home from home for families of children and young people with cancer on-site of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.

SACA Charity Bike Ride from Birmingham to London is testing and gruelling and Tarlok is asking friends, family and the public to donate to this fantastic cause. Having successfully completed the ride last weekend, he is keen to raise maximum funds for a great cause. Tarlok Singh is no stranger to punishing himself; he took part in last year’s bike ride. The whole event then raised over £71,000 for the Children’s Radiotherapy Ward at Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital Birmingham.

me virdee 2SACA, a 100% volunteer charity organisation is the main organiser of the event – over the years it has ensured the need for safety and improvements. In 1984 a group of 14 aspiring youths decided to establish a challenge that could help both local and national children’s charities. They considered a number of sporting events that would test both their determination and personal fitness. They also considered the key element of working as a team and supporting each other. The challenge would require endurance, fitness and careful planning. They set the standard for what has now become a yearly summer event lasting 2 days. The Birmingham to London cycle ride now attracts riders from all over the country and international riders each year and involves months of planning and adherence to safety management disciplines.

Last year, with the relentless effort from riders, a staggering £71,173 was raised for the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Children’s radiotherapy ward. This year, the money raised by the SACA Charity Bike Ride 2016 will be used to fund a ‘home from home’ in association with Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham for families of children and young adults receiving cancer treatment. Every year a children’s charity is selected as the ride’s beneficiary. Over the last 31 years, the ride has raised in excess of £450,000 in aid of different children’s charity groups.

The Teenage Cancer Trust Young Person’s Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital is for 16-24 year olds and has 11 in-patient beds and a day-care facility. The first unit in Birmingham was built at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in 2000 as one of the first Teenage Cancer Trust units in the country. This amazing unit was updated and re-provided in May 2011 when the new hospital was built.

Tarlok Singh said, “The Nishkam Centre and Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) are always supporting charitable causes here in the UK and abroad. I respect the Chairman Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh who encourages us all to participate in charitable and benevolent acts.  I took part in this two day bike ride on the 16th and 17th of July to raise as much money as I can to help fellow human beings.

“It was a very difficult undertaking and I struggled. I was honoured to be amongst cycling professionals, novices, and people who generally wanted to raise funds for a good cause. I am glad I undertook my training and was able to participate in small events leading up to this big event. I would like to encourage as many people as possible to donate to good causes to help others. It would be great if people could find it in their hearts to support me to raise funds for Birmingham Children’s Hospital. I have exceeded the target I set myself but we welcome additional funds so that we can beat our total of £71,000 last year.”

The ride started from Birmingham (Smethwick) and proceeded through Coventry, Daventry and through Milton Keynes taking in the picturesque views of our British countryside. It then reached its centennial milestone in Luton where there was an overnight stay. The ride continued in the morning, in Luton and passed through St Albans, Radlet, Elstree and Harrow before reaching its final destination to Southall in West London.

To support Tarlok Singh on his quest please donate via his JustGiving page http://www.justgiving.com/Tarlok-Virdee1?utm_id=27

RENOWNED SIKH LAWYER AND COMMUNITY LEADER HONOURED IN QUEEN’S BIRTHDAY LIST

ssmaward196Mr Sewa Singh Mandla (89), a high profile lawyer and a community and inter-faith leader in Birmingham has been appointed Officer of British Empire (OBE) in recognition of his 50 years’ legal, human rights and selfless community voluntary service in West Midlands.

As a long serving volunteer at the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and a trustee at the Nishkam Civic Association Handsworth, Birmingham, Mr Mandla has been recognised for his significant contribution to community and inter-faith development work in the city and the region.

He has been able to successfully fuse his professional work in law with spirituality to make a difference to Sikh and wider communities in the UK.  Mr Mandla’s perseverance to take the issue of turbans worn by Sikh pupils in schools is a testament of his dedication to fight for a just cause.

His presence and strong personality enables him to successfully complete challenging social and professional tasks and projects. Mr Mandla has a gift of mobilising volunteers who are prepared to make selfless contribution to many different projects that he has initiated or led on behalf of other organisations.

He has an extraordinary passion and flair for serving the community in the pursuit of making a difference. His perseverance to follow through projects and tasks is one of his outstanding qualities. Mr Mandla is regularly invited to represent the views of the Sikh community in the media. He also volunteers to host television programmes on health and wellbeing and Kirtan on Sikh TV channels.

On being awarded the OBE in the Queen’s 90th birthday Honours list, Mr Mandla said “I am greatly humbled and feel privileged to be receiving this honour from HM the Queen. I thank Almighty God for this blessing and my spiritual master, Bhai Sahib Ji whose guidance has never failed me.

I pray that I live up to the expectations of all those who placed their faith, trust and confidence in me.” He added “I have accepted this appointment on behalf of the Sikh and wider communities that I am privileged to serve here in Birmingham and West Midlands.  This award is a recognition of the importance that community work and faith is playing in the secular world.”

Ends

To arrange an interview, please contact Prof. Upkar Singh Pardesi, Vice-Chairman, Nishkam Centre.  Mobile: 07974150320

Birmingham’s Sikh community marks the end of year and beginning of a New Year with prayer for World Peace

Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) invites all communities to unGNNSJ Birminghamite in prayers for peace during the festive season. The organisation has facilitated and organised eleven day prayer services for the benefit of all humanity twice every year since 1976. This year is even more poigniant in light of recent events carried out by misguided people in the name of faith. 

 

Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, literally means ‘A body of people, dedicated to selfless service, in the name of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, the founder of the Sikh Dharam’ (faith). The humble endeavour is to practice and promote Dharam and optimism through selfless service for the welfare of all. The word Nishkam means being committed to the practice of selflessness – going beyond oneself to unlock infinite potential to do more for the common good. Nishkam sewa can be described as the practice of voluntary service, without expectation of either monetary or even spiritual gain, as well as selflessly helping and providing benevolence to the needy.

Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji, the Founder Saint of GNNSJ             (1898 – 1983)

Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji, the Founder Saint of GNNSJ (1898 – 1983)

It was in this spirit that an enlightened soul Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji,

Bhai Sahib Bhai Norang Singh (1926 – 1995)

Bhai Sahib Bhai Norang Singh (1926 – 1995)

known affectionately as Baba Ji, founded GNNSJ in East Africa during the 1940s. Baba Ji’s left for their heavenly abode in 1983 and their successor, another blessed soul, Bhai Sahib Bhai Norang Singh embraced and continued the Nishkam legacy in the early 1980’s. From these beginnings, GNNSJ has become a recognised faith based organisation with Gurudwaras in the UK, India and Kenya. It has an estimated one million members worldwide, and since 1995 has been guided by its present Spiritual Leader and Chairman, Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia.

With almost 40 years of spiritual development and enrichment, the Gurudwara on Soho Road, Handsworth (Sikh place of worship) is at the heart and soul of GNNSJ’s activities. The Gurudwara started from humble beginnings as two houses previously Polish club on Soho Road in 1976. Following a concerted community effort redevelopment and refurbishment by devotees, the Gurudwara opened in 1977. The area has lovingly been regenerated and many refer to it as ‘the gateway to Soho Road’. GNNSJ has made a commitment and pledge to the inner-city area of Handsworth in an effort to uplift and regenerate the locality and also the people that reside within it. This cannot simply be done through bricks and mortar, albeit this is financially a big investment and requirement, GNNSJ has invested and lead in social capital, volunteers, civic renewal, education, capacity building, relationship building and holding civil partners to account for their actions. As a recognised trusted ambassador for the locality GNNSJ is able represent, liaise and negotiate on behalf of the local population through its facets in the Nishkam group of organisations.

Prayers being recited from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Prayers being recited from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Since 1976, prayers have continuously been read each day within the Gurudwara, and specifically, prayers for world peace have been held bi-annually. The Sampat Akhand Path is 11 days in length, consisting of the continuous reading of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the Sikh eternal revered living timeless Guru and scriptures. Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji takes approximately 48 hours to complete when read continuously. The Sampat shabad, a specific verse taken from the scriptures, is read in between each line or sentence. This shabad metaphorically acts as a priceless box, encasing each verse of Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, allowing us to absorb its meaning and essence.

The Sampat shabad being recited in this December program is Bhairao, Fifth Mehla and whilst translation is a poor substitute, the essence of the shabad is:

 

You are my Father, and You are my Mother.

You are my Soul, my Breath of Life, the Giver of Peace.

You are my Lord and Master; I am Your slave.

Without You, I have no one at all. ||1||

Please bless me with Your Mercy, God, and give me this gift,

that I may sing Your Praises, day and night. ||1||Pause||

I am Your musical instrument, and You are the Musician.

I am Your beggar; please bless me with Your charity, O Great Giver.

By Your Grace, I enjoy love and pleasures.

You are deep within each and every heart. ||2||

By Your Grace, I chant the Name.

In the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, I sing Your Glorious Praises.

In Your Mercy, You take away our pains.

By Your Mercy, the heart-lotus blossoms forth. ||3||

I am a sacrifice to the Divine Guru.

The Blessed Vision of His Darshan is fruitful and rewarding; His service is immaculate and pure.

Be Merciful to me, O my Lord God and Master,

that Nanak may continually sing Your Glorious Praises. ||4||18||31||

The 11 day prayer is done on behalf of Sarbat Da Bhalla (the welfare and good will of all humanity) Sikhs

The Sangat (congregation) listen to prayers being recited from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

The Sangat (congregation) listen to prayers being recited from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji

believe that humanitarian work can be done in many ways, but specifically by invoking God’s blessings. The bi-annual prayers were initiated by GNNSJ’s founder and spiritual leader, Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji and are held at the end of July and in December, just before the New Year. These are times when most of the community can come together because of school holidays and the annual festive holidays. In Sikh history the month of December is notable for the many sacrifices and martyrdoms that occurred on behalf of righteousness and faith. So this is a period of reflection and remembrance for the 27 million Sikhs worldwide.

The reading and service of Guru Granth Sahib Ji in the Darbar Sahib (Guru’s Court/prayer hall) requires approximately 800 volunteer hours. This does not include all the regular volunteers that help to maintain, run and support the Gurudwara’s other activities. For example, the volunteers needed for langar (free kitchen where blessed food is freshly prepared and served) where approximately 25,000 meals are served every week.

The prayers undertaken for the benefit of the welfare and well-being of all humanity is a humble demonstration of the belief in the power of prayer. It is imperative that people of faith remain steadfast in their faith especially when faith is perceived as a problem not a solution. Faith should promote and lead to

 Present Spiritual Leader and Chairman of GNNSJ, Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia OBE

Present Spiritual Leader and Chairman of GNNSJ, Bhai Sahib, Bhai (Dr) Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia OBE

greater cohesion and not be seen as a defining or differentiating barrier. A very significant and relevant project that Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh is currently leading on is the Museum of World’s Religions which will bring together in one place all the major faiths of the world. Currently, there is one museum of this type in Taipei and an international group of trustees is now working on a similar project in Birmingham. The project will be an opportunity to celebrate differences whilst promoting cohesion, unity, sacred space, values, sacred text and learnings, cultures and heritage.

Bhai Sahib Ji, the third in line of Sikh religious leaders of GNNSJ and since 1995, Chairman of the Nishkam Group of Organisations, is active in religious practice and propagation; social regeneration; heritage conservation; education, health and infrastructure development. He is passionate about empowering individuals and organisations with common religious values, through selfless service, education and exposure.

Bhai Sahib Ji’s other notable undertakings include:

· Spearheading the upgrading of the Holy Takhat of Patna. This is the birthplace of the Tenth Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Gobind Singh Ji (1666) and for the 350th anniversary several million pilgrims are expected from Oct 2016 – Jan 2017 for which preparations are being made.

• The Charter for Forgiveness and Reconciliation,

• The development and establishment of ground-breaking Sikh ethos multi-faith school trust operating four state-funded schools in the UK. faith inspired education trust,

• Restoration and beautification of sacred shrines in India,

• Working on international peace initiatives as one of fifty co-presidents and trustees of Religions for Peace (RfP) International.

The Nishkam Civic Association, or Nishkam Centre as it is lovingly referred to, is the civic and engagement arm of GNNSJ and both organisations welcome members of all faiths, or traditions, all persuasions, and all backgrounds to come and see first-hand what the Nishkam Group of organisations and the Sikh community here in Birmingham is doing. To this end, if any organisation, individual or group of people wish to visit please contact the Nishkam Centre or GNNSJ directly on the following email addresses info@ncauk.org or visitors@gnnsj.org.

Notes to Editors:

 

For more information:

International President of Initiatives of Change visits Nishkam campus

Dr Omnia Marzouk, International President, Initiatives of Change

Dr Omnia Marzouk, International President, Initiatives of Change

On Friday 4th December, Dr Omnia Marzouk, International President of Initiatives of Change (IofC) accompanied by Elsa Vogal and Bill Ozanne visited the Nishkam Group of Organisations. This auspicious visit has paved the way for fruitful collaboration opportunities that will benefit humanity for generations to come.

On arrival to the Gurudwara Sahib and campus Dr Marzouk and the distinguished guests were welcomed and greeted by the Nishkam Centre Director, Amrick Singh. An overview of the activities that took place at the Gurudwara and the other four centres was given. At this point a linkage back to Kericho (Kenya) and the work of the founder Saint, Sant Baba Puran Singh Ji and his successor Bhai Sahib Norang Singh Ji was also highlighted. The guests were intrigued to hear the journey and development of the Jatha and the contribution being made to humanity.

Amrick Singh then explained the fact that prayers had been ongoing

Dr Omnia Marzouk takes a bouquet for Guru Granth Sahib Ji

Dr Omnia Marzouk takes a bouquet for Guru Granth Sahib Ji

at the Gurudwara since 1974 and over 25,000 meals a week were served in the langar (blessed vegetarian food prepared by volunteers in the Guru’s kitchen and served to all). It became clear and evident to the guests that whilst structurally there were much larger Gurudwaras in the UK, GNNSJ was one having a big impact and involvement. The guests then made their way into the main Darbar Sahib to pay respects to Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji, the eternal and revered Guru of the Sikhs. Dr Marzouk was invited to present a bouquet of flowers to Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji.

Dr Marzouk listens as prayers are recited from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji in the Gumbad Darbar (Dome Prayer Room)

Dr Marzouk listens as prayers are recited from Sri Guru Granth Sahib Ji in the Gumbad Darbar (Dome Prayer Room)

After visiting the Darbar Sahib the group made its way to the Gumbad Darbar or referred to as the Dome Prayer hall. The guests were clearly in ore when they got to the rooftop and took in the amazing views and unique presence of the dome. The history of the construction, decoration and completion of the dome was shared with the guests.

The guests were then taken for a brief walk on Soho Road to see the other enterprises. They visited the outside of MSS, spoke about the pharmacy, looked at and discussed the Nishkam School Trust where Ranjit Singh provided an overview for the guests so they could appreciate the amount of work, in particular, the volunteer hours, the unique vision and the leadership that had been invested for the benefit of future generations. Once they reached the Nishkam Centre they all visited the current exhibition and the Harmandir Sahib model – or referred to as the Golden Temple in the western world. The group were overwhelmed by the beautiful model and the work that had been done on the 24 Spiritual and Moral Dispositions that was also exhibited.

Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh, Chairman of GNNSJ and the Nishkam Civic Association, joined the delegation in the seminar room. After brief introductions Bhai Sahib Ji asked Dr Marzouk about the meaning of her name and her ancestral background. There then ensued a series of discussions around similarities between to two institutions. Bill was keen to draw parallels between what the Nishkam Group was involved in and what the IofC was doing.

Dr Marzouk said, “I am really impressed with what the Sikh

A memorable image outside the Gurudwara Sahib

A memorable image outside the Gurudwara Sahib

community is doing here; our values and ethos, we have so much in common. The philosophy of what you are doing is very similar to what Initiatives of Change is about. It is about how we enable people to be effective change makers. The three key areas we work are; trust building, ethical leadership – empowering the next generation, to take a values-based approach to the workplace, the third area is sustainable living i.e how do we promote an economy that is value-based and businesses are value-based and not just to make profit. There is also a focus on working with partners on sustainable environmental projects.”

“If we were to map the areas of the world where there is conflict and then also map the areas of the world where greenery is being destroyed and becoming desert the maps will show a relationship. Where there is conflict there is also desertification [land becomes desert like]. We have to look at our dialogue tools to help communities to work on the land to improve the productivity of the land.

The conversation around Kenya was of particular interest. The work GNNSJ was doing with education, healthcare provision, women’s prison work, sports facilities, orphanage work, HIV work, and general empowerment with ethics and values was something Dr Marzouk could relate to and she gave examples of projects they too were involved in. This involved faith communities coming together following trust building workshops over a period of time. This led nicely into a conversation around the Charter of Forgiveness and Reconciliation that Bhai Sahib Ji was leading on.

Bhai Sahib Ji spoke about ensuring our moral compasses were aligned right, “That should be our priority. Our different identities, mother, father, brother, sister etc need to be fulfilled and should not detract us from our purpose here on earth. We should be compassionate as being revengeful is double poison.” He then recalled the story of Guru Arjan Dev Ji. “The 5th Guru who was made to sit on a hot plate and had hot sand poured over his head, he gave us an example of how we should live in God’s will. The Guru’s friend and soul mate, Sai Mia Mir, a Muslim, wanted to help him but was told that this was God’s will. We can and should nurture good human beings with good values. We must bring out the best in people not the worst”.

“Our challenges are global they require global solutions which in turn will need global infrastructure. The United Nations (UN) is one such structure”. He recalled something Chiara Lubich said to him about the UN, “If the UN fails to deliver there will be no United Nations we will have a ‘United People’.” Bhai Sahib Ji continued, ”The power is within the ordinary people we need to empower them. The mind is like a mustang – a wild horse – it is uncontrollable; it is very shrewd. I am happy, we are on the same wavelength – we all want to see positive change.”

Bhai Sahib Ji thanked Dr Marzouk and said, ”We are all truly inspired by everything you have shared with us and are honoured that you are here with us today.”

The group then shared a blessed meal together at the Gurudwara where further heartfelt conversation took place. There was a general sense of anticipation and hope of what was possible by collaboration and partnership working. It was inspiring to see the inspirational and visionary leaders of two organisations in such harmony and agreement of what was required to make the world a better place for all who inhabit it and for mother Earth per se.

Bhai Sahib Ji then presented Dr Marzouk with an information pack and more importantly a copy of a book that both pictorially and narratively explained about Sikh heritage, faith, practices, places of worship and in general painted a picture of what is a Sikh.

During the day Dr Marzouk was asked about her role and she humbly said,” My predecessors were very important and influential statesmen, the former head of Red Cross Switzerland, Kofi Annan’s personal assistant, and Rajmohan Gandhi. I had turned down the role and told them to find someone more important and relevant. When other candidates refused the job on the grounds they could not it, they pressed me to take it on. After prayer and reflection, three questions came to me. ‘Do you believe ordinary people are used by God can do great things?’ I thought ‘yes’.  The next question was, ‘Do you think God is calling you to do this?’ Again I thought ‘yes’. Finally ‘Are you prepared to leave your comfort zone?’ to which again I answered ‘yes’. It was at this point that I took on the role in all honesty. After the event, Bill Ozanne said to Amrick Singh that, Omnia (Dr Marzouk) and Bhai Sahib Ji seemed to have a great meeting of hearts and minds and this was probably because of their shared journey’s and similarities of how they got their calling to serve and took on the challenges they are addressing.

After the visit, Amrick Singh said, “It was a pleasure and honour to welcome our distinguished guests to the campus and share with them what we are privileged to do. I am sure we will be identifying collaborative opportunities here and abroad to work more closely together. We will also be seeing more of Elsa Vogal, she was part of the French Resistance and recalls phenomenal episodes where she was face-to-face with the enemy and lived to tell the tale. More importantly, she used her experience to help shape the world we see today by becoming instrumental in what IofC was all about”.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

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Phoenix Newspaper 5th Anniversary Gala Dinner and Awards Presentation Ceremony honours Bhai Sahib (Dr) Mohinder Singh

award

A delegation from the Nishkam Group of Organisations was invited to The Phoenix Newspaper 5th Anniversary Gala Dinner and Awards Ceremony at Bethel Convention Centre to mark the newspaper’s achievements on Saturday 5th December 2015. The black tie, red carpet event was sold as it was marketed as ‘the event to be seen at for 2015’.

The evening started with canapés and drinks, an opportunity to
network and photographs as guests arrived and made their way down the red carpet. The Nishkam Group attendees were respected Bhai Sahib (Dr) Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha (GNNSJ) and Nishkam Civic Association, accompanied by his wife, Mrs Baldev Kaur, Mr Sewa Singh Mandla, and Nishkam Centre Director, Amrick Singh and his wife Sharanjit Kaur.

The Nishkam table prior to dinner being served

The Nishkam table prior to dinner being served

Some 500 guests made their way to their tables to enjoy the meal and speeches. The Nishkam table as well as the Nishkam attendees also had Neena Gill, the MEP for the West Midlands, Ninder Singh Johal the current President of the Black Country Chamber of Commerce (BCCC), member of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) and his wife. Ninder took the opportunity prior to dinner being served to congratulate Bhai Sahib Ji on receipt of his OBE and the Papal Knighthood he received.

It was joyous to see so many colleagues and friends come together to celebrate a commendable achievement and to share the moment with Marcia and her team. Bishop Wollaston who had previously visited the UK from America and visited Bhai Sahib ji at the

Marcia McLaughlin catches up with Bhai Sahib Ji

Marcia McLaughlin catches up with Bhai Sahib Ji

Gurudwara, had returned to the UK especially for the awards ceremony. The Bishop came to say hello to Bhai Sahib Ji and they had a quick catch up. Another VIP that came to say hello to Bhai Sahib Ji was Mykal Brown, who was the other person who had a coin dedicated to him in Handsworth along with Bhai Sahib Ji and Merrise Crooks-Bishton.

During dinner there were performances from Community Gospel Choir, Ronald Dewit and Melika Queely. After dinner speeches from a number of invited Guest Speakers including Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh OBE, Keith Stokes-Smith and Olusegun Dosumu.

Bhai Sahib Ji started by welcoming everyone to the event and congratulated Marcia on a great achievement. He also took the opportunity to promote key messages about values and virtues, community cohesion, the media being used in a positive means as opposed to promoting negative attitudes.

“The media should promote community cohesion interfaith dialogue

and collaboration it should build on the existing 24 moral and spiritual dispositions that were created for the Birmingham RE syllabus in 2007. The media should share our understanding of religion and cultures and its coverage should be more frequent and consistent when covering interfaith events. Media should promote peace; it is peace that we all want; individual peace, family, community peace and global peace”. This comment received rapturous applause from the audience.

Bhai Sahib Bhai Mohinder Singh OBE addresses the VIP gathering

“We must have more dialogue and promote dialogue, without dialogue there is a fear of the unknown that leads to prejudice and conflict.” Bhai Sahib also referred to the Declaration of Universal Human Rights and asked the audience if anybody had heard of the Declaration of Responsibilities – no one had. He then quoted a clause from article 5 pertaining to non-violence and respect for life,

Keith Stokes-Smith delivers his messages and raises awareness of the Commonwealth Association

Keith Stokes-Smith delivers his messages and raises awareness of the Commonwealth Association

“Every person has a responsibility to respect life. No one has the right to injure, to torture or to kill another human person. This does not exclude the right of justified self-defence of individuals or communities.” Once again, this received a round of applause. “I feel humanity has to revisit and resuscitate this Declaration of Human Responsibilities”.

Bhai Sahib Ji also suggested that we should make sure all our media professionals are trained and educated to ensure proper coverage of events. In particular he said it was important that the media covered faith-based and religious events in a fair and balanced way so that the chance of any misrepresentation, misquoting, or abuse of reporting was minimised. “The media, like the mind, can be your best friend and also your worst enemy”, he said. “Finally I want to again congratulate Marcia and her staff for the excellent work they continue to do.”

All the guests captivated during the performances and Awards Ceremony

All the guests captivated during the performances and Awards Ceremony

Bhai Sahib Ji’s address was followed by Keith Stokes-Smith, Chairman of Birmingham Commonwealth Association. He reiterated many of the messages delivered by Bhai Sahib Ji and suggested that people take more responsibility for their actions. He also went on to say that the Phoenix was a great friend and ally of the Birmingham Commonwealth Association, congratulated them on their achievements over the last five years and wished him well for the next five years.

Once the guests had enjoyed dinner, they were shown into the auditorium which could accommodate up to 4000 people. Following the Dhol Blasters, Gospel Central, with Mark Dwayne and Sticky Toffee Dancers entertained the guests and set the scene for the awards. The audience was then presented with a series of performances and guest speakers presenting their thanks and gratitude to the Phoenix and in particular Marcia for her dedication and commitment.

The awards ceremony recognised many people for their

Bhai Sahib Ji receives Humanitarian Achievement Award from President of BCCC & GBSLEP Board Member, Mr Ninder Johal

Bhai Sahib Ji receives Humanitarian Achievement Award from President of BCCC & GBSLEP Board Member, Mr Ninder Johal

achievements and contributions. GNNSJ was a nomination for the ‘Best Place of Worship’ award. A surprise award not listed in the program was made by Marcia McLaughlin when she called Ninder Johal to announce a special award. He came on stage and said that the award was in recognition of the great contribution to Humanitarian Services. He then began to read key bullet points from Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh OBE’s biography. At this point he invited Bhai Sahib Ji on to the stage to collect his award to a great round of applause from the audience.

After the event Bhai Sahib Ji said,”I am truly honoured to receive this Humanitarian Achievement Award. In all humility, I believe I am fulfilling my service to humanity and doing what any human being should be doing. “I am privileged to be Spiritual Leader and Chairman of the Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha, and to be able to undertake service to mankind. We must empower individuals, families and society with values and virtues that create

Group photo opportunity at the end

Group photo opportunity at the end

good human beings; this will ultimately create a much better society. The work that the Phoenix is doing is commendable. I would encourage it to undertake an even more proactive role in promoting faith from a practitioner’s perspective as opposed to a theological perspective. Once again we thank Marcia for her work on the Phoenix and to everybody responsible for my receiving this prestigious award. I accept this on behalf of the Nishkam family and all the people who work behind the scenes to help me achieve what we do.”

END

Notes to Editors:

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