A seed was sown in U.S. 25 years ago. A team of 11 dedicated persons took care of the seedlings, fed it properly, and watered it carefully. It came out a beautiful tree with strong trunk, green branches, large leaves and multicolor flowers. Anyone, who sees and comes near it, enjoys its fragrance.
The above was result of a meeting held in 1977 at Rishikesh. There, some experienced, dedicated, visionary persons observed that the Sikh youth who go to the western countries for studies and the children born in those countries lose their Sikh identity on account of lack of knowledge regarding the high ideals of Sikhism.
Some research was done and Sri Hemkunt Foundation (the Foundation) was established in November 1980 in New York with the broad objective of sharing universal brotherhood with the community. With this objective, an environment was created in which children could learn the spiritual, moral and religious teachings of Sikhism. The promotion of learning Punjabi language in Gurmukhi script, Kirtan, Gurbani, Philosophy, History and Sikh culture has been the cornerstone of the Foundation.
In 1981, the Foundation organized a study tour of 50 children, of different age groups, to visit India. The goal of expedition was to give the youth a first hand experience of the history and culture of Sikhism. Their journey led them to see some of the glorious cultural heritage, which they had not seen before. Visits were arranged to various religious and historic places, as well as educational institutions throughout India. One of the highlights of this trip was the exhilarating and breath-taking visit to Sri Hemkunt Sahib in the lofty Himalayan Mountains. It is located at more than 15,000 feet above sea level. It was an experience enjoyed by everyone!
Next step was the distribution of religious books written by the versatile saint scholar and inspirational author, Bhai Vir Singh. A milestone for the Foundation came in 1983 when a symposium on Rana Bhabor was organized. 19 children participated. This was the first symposium sponsored by the Foundation. The changing pattern of the Sikh Diaspora and the interest of parents combined with the vigorous zeal of conveners led to the growth of the Foundation. The number of age groups increased from one to five, centers to 70, zones to 16 and participants (from London to Nairobi and Miami to Toronto) to 1800 -2000.
This is the result of gross root workers; center and zonal conveners who work zealously throughout the year to achieve better results. Since 1991, international Symposium is rotating amongst zones like London (U.K), Washington D.C.,Toronto (Canada), Nairobi (Kenya), Chicago (USA), Florida (USA), Leads (UK), San Francisco (USA). The venue for an annual competition is decided collectively by Zonal Conveners, with active advice of the centers.
The concept of inviting guest speakers was introduced in 1990. Sikh scholars who are held in high esteem in the Sikh community, have an impeccable record of community service,achievement in their chosen profession, and can serve as role models for the youth, were invited as keynotes speakers. We had the privilege of inviting Sikh leaders and eminent scholars. Among them was a political leader and educationist Dr. Arjan Kirpal Singh (UK); writer and scientist, Dr. Jaswant Singh Neki; efficient administrator and successful editor, S. Saran Singh I.A.S. (Retd.); prolific writer–editor and eloquent orator Dr. Inderjit Singh (UK); Honorable Gurbax Singh Mahli, Member Parliament (Canada), all were the invitees in earlier years. Among the luminaries, Justice Mota Singh, Attorney and Sikh leader Sat Jiwan Singh, famous Human Rights Advocate and leader Manjit Singh Gill (UK); great politician and leader Sher Singh Sher (Canada); entrepreneur and budding political leader from Illinois Dr.Chirinjeev Singh Kathuria; student leaders Ravneet Singh,Bhavneet Singh and Dr. Reema Kaur (UK) were the keynote speakers and chief guests at the International Symposium.
In 1992, the Foundation introduced the program ‘Nitnem’ for the children during summer and winter vacations. It has gone so successful that hundreds of children have learned ‘Nitnem’ in New York and various other centers.
In 2005, when we are celebrating Silver Jubilee of the Foundation together with 17th international Symposium at Long Island, New York on Aug 4-7, a new dimension is a live play ‘Sundri’ at the stadium of Hofstra University.
The parents, participants and zonal Conveners meet every year, at the time of annual convention. They discuss all issues pertinent to the symposium and make recommendations. Zonal Conveners bring issues to the Foundation during the year as and when these arise. The Board meets four times a year to oversee the functioning of the various committees-ad hoc and standing, along with functional groups and consider recommendations of the Zonal Conveners. S. Karamjit Singh, International Symposium Coordinator works very hard throughout the year to coordinate activities of the Foundation.
The growth created a tremendous burden in the selection, procurement and distribution of books. The Foundation is meeting this challenge with the active help of various groups and the Conveners. Selection of books and the framing of questions are the most important topics to make the Symposium a success. Foundation receives honest, productive, useful and sincere advice from various sources. The Literary Group is comprised of highly qualified individuals who have life long experience in teaching. The group was initially headed by Prof. Gurcharan Singh, then by Mrs. Rajinderjit K. Singh and now for over a decade by Prof. Dr. Balwant Singh, Bucknell University, PA. The selection of books is an ongoing and year round project. It takes about 18 months to review multiple books for each age group and check their availability before the books are recommended to the Board. A tentative plan is framed for about five years in order to facilitate the allocation of topics for each group. A progressive system of learning is devised so that the children learn Sikh History in a systematic way. As the youth progresses through time, they should be aware of the social issues in a methodical way.
What is said above is by the Grace of Satguru. But is a drop in the ocean. Teaching high ideals of Sikhism is not an easy job. It is a challenge for the workers of the Foundation to set ambitious goals and plan to achieve these by 2030 while celebrating the Golden Jubilee.