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IIGS, and the Sikh community at large, has responded the way it has always responded. We make ourselves stronger. We fall more deeply in love with our faith. We spread awareness not only about ourselves, but about others who face similar struggles.

 This begins at the grassroots level - with children and teenagers.


 But like other minorities who straddle the line between two cultures, Sikh youth born and raised in America sometimes fall through the cracks. They face the dual pressures of assimilation into the mainstream and a commitment to their faith.  This camp gives them a place they belong.


As it has done for decades through camps, programs, and classes, the International Institute for Gurmat Studies continued to engage Sikh youth with their faith, all the while teaching them to infuse their own lives with positivity and purpose.


The camp brought children and adults from California and around the nation. For many, IIGS is a second home. At the heart of the camps is a spirit of community.


"You are all part of the IIGS family," said Kavi Raj Singh, director of the camp, in his opening remarks to a hall filled with both new and familiar faces. "Once you come to even one camp, you will always be a part of our family."


That spirit of inclusion radiated throughout the camp.


 "It's really hard to find people who can relate to you on both a friendship level, and a spiritual level, but I finally found that at this camp," said Naureen Singh, 18.


The days were long, beginning in the palest hours of morning and ending in inky-blue nights. Older campers tended after the younger ones, who, in some cases, were away from home for the first time.


"Watching an 8-year-old kid help a random 6-year-old brush his teeth made me realize that they weren't kidding when they said that IIGS is one big family," said Simran Singh, 20.


In someways, IIGS hit the notes typical of summer camps: wood cabins, delicious food, new friendships, and spontaneous fun. Camps teach leadership and community, bonding and service.

But in many ways, this annual camp transcends those clichés. Beyond religious instruction, this camp is about spiritual nourishment.


 Bookending the mornings and evenings were gatherings in the prayer hall where campers sang shabads, sacred melodic hymns, accompanied musically by harmonium and tabla drums.  Setting the tone for the day was the morning naam simran, meditation upon the name of God.  A sea of a hundred voices sang in unison, charging the air with a spiritual electricity that continued to reverberate long after the recitation ceased.


Over the course of seven days, campers participated in a spiritual workout of sorts, taking classes on topics ranging from Sikh history to martial arts to religious music. Campers learned how to tie a turban and decipher the poetic Sikh scriptures. They attended lectures on the  purpose of life and importance of kes, uncut hair.


Selfless service and honest work are central tenets of Sikhism, and campers lived those principles through group tasks such as serving meals and arranging shoes outside the prayer hall. These simple duties were a microcosm of the way Sikhs are taught to live their lives.


All of this stirred something in young hearts. Pride.


"I think this camp made me realize just how beautiful and meaningful Gurbani [the divine scriptures] is," said Manjot Kaur, 13. "I feel so proud to be born into this heritage and religion and I look forward to learning more and more everyday"


Campers also discussed how to deal with the aftermath of the Sikh temple shooting.


"What do you think Sikhs should do to advocate for our community?" asked counselor Gurdayal Singh in a Sikh history class. The group offered a multitude of ideas - from advertising campaigns to classroom education to fundraising and charity efforts.


One young boy in the class suggested that Sikhs should stop "white people" from hurting them.


"Be careful not to generalize any group because of the actions of one person. We have to spread this message to all," said the counselor.


See God in all. That's the crux of the Sikh religion, which compels its adherents to see Waheguru - the creator, in all of humanity by cultivating within themselves a sincere love for God.


What did campers glean out of the camp? For one, gratitude.


"Always remember God and be grateful for each new day he gives you," said Sukhmani Kaur Charaia, 16. "Each new day is one more chance for understanding Him and the light he is shining upon us"  




Communities under attack face the crushing reality that they are being targeted for who they are. Whether through vitriolic cartoons, flag burnings, or gunshots, bigoted violence towards an ethnic, religious, or racial communities constitute a genocide of the spirit - a threat to their very soul. 
 How do we respond to this? The question burns in a million minds.














Sardarni Ravleen Kaur (Left) at the summer Camp

See the divine in all.


That was the central message of the 76th Sikh International Youth Camp held this August under the pine canopy of the San Bernandino mountains. Only a week had passed since the tragic Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting at which shook a community's spirit, and one might have expected Sikhs to wallow in resentment, mourning, or self-pity.
 But Sikhs didn't do that when violently oppressed by Mughal emperors in the sixteenth century. They didn't do that when the British presence in India stomped on their rights. They didn't do that when their holiest shrine, the Golden Temple, was attacked by the Indian government.
 And they certainly didn't do that at this camp. The International Institute of Gurmat Studies did this summer what it has been doing for decades; it celebrated and cultivated the Sikh spirit by empowering its youth. IIGS pursues perhaps the most results-oriented of missions - it plants seeds. 



Planting Seeds: How one Sikh Organization is empowering Youth through Soul-Nourishing Camps
-Sardarni Ravleen Kaur
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