KINGSBURG – If you see a group of Sikh students cleaning up the local highways, registering people to vote or gathering items to adopt a family for the holidays, you could be watching the new Sikh Honor Society members in action.
A new club has started at Kingsburg High School and members and organizers say it’s all about mentoring the current generation to take on civic responsibility.
World history teacher Frank Carbajal is their academic adviser and Kamaljit Kaur is a local volunteer with the Fresno Jakara Movement helping the students get organized. Officers include student president Dilvir Sekhon, vice president Tanvir Sekhon, secretary Ajmeet K. Pama-Ghuman, treasurer Ravinder Rai, historian Saneh Kahlon and ASB representative Noblepartap Kahlon.
The local movement is focused on inspiring youth to service “through creative leadership development, community organizing and social activism. We believe a world of engaged communities, strong families, healthy individuals and inspired youth is possible,” their Jakara.org website states.
At Kingsburg High, it was only their second meeting Sept. 27 and aside from taking care of some basics like ordering T-shirts and getting a contact list organized, Sekhon had a PowerPoint up showing a list of upcoming activities.
As the elections approach in November, Sekhon said the big push is to make sure those who are old enough are ready to participate.
“For the next couple of Sundays, we’re doing a voter registration to get as many people registered as we can.”
They’ll also help with clean-ups along Highway 99, attend a senior night to prep for college registration and once the holidays get closer, they’ll also gather food, gifts and other items to adopt a family.
Since the month of November has been designated as Sikh Awareness Month across the state, the students will also create informational posters and set up a booth for activities at Kingsburg High.
Kaur said Jakara organizers noticed that while some Sikh students are “amazing all-stars,” some are unsure of how to get involved, have questions about higher education and needed mentors to turn to.
“Kids in our community didn’t have a spot to go to if they needed academic help, personal help or even mental health help. We can be like a big brother or sister so that’s why these clubs are being created. Our main goal is to get the school youth involved. Anyone is welcomed to join, but essentially we want to make sure they’re volunteering and giving back to the communities they reside in.”
Often, as in Kaur’s case, students are the first in the families to attend college and the application process can be overwhelming. So when Sikh Honor Society students are in their junior and senior years, they’ll get guidance in applying to colleges and universities and mentors who’ll read through their personal statements and make sure they’re meeting deadlines.
“Some families are immigrants, don’t speak English and they don’t know what’s next. We know it can be a hard, stressful time so we try to ease their stress as much as possible.”
In a town that’s known for its Swedish history, the community is evolving to include more diverse groups such as the Punjabi who’ve settled in the San Joaquin Valley from India. Part of the Sikh Honor Society’s goal will also be to raise awareness about their culture.
Sekhon said she’s lived in Kingsburg since fifth grade and notices more Punjabi in the area as time goes on. Others are aware of some basics about their culture, but most aren’t. While there may be some obvious differences, there’s plenty they have in common with non-Sikhs, she said.
“I think we’re more alike than different,” Sekhon said regarding family values, goals and ethics systems. “Overall, I think we’re pretty similar in what we think is wrong or right. Even the way our families function. It’s still the same like the parents take care of the kids and the kids try to fulfill goals for themselves and for their parents, no matter which religion you are. Our parents are proud of us and we’re proud of our parents.”
Club member Ekpreet Virk, a junior, said her family has already been involved with Jakara activities in Fresno and with relief efforts after natural disasters across the country.
“It’s all about community service and giving back,” Virk said. “When the hurricanes hit the year before, they helped out by driving food over in semi-trucks. We’re just about giving back to our communities and raising awareness about who we are. There’s been the ‘We are Sikhs’ campaigns and they’ve helped out with that.”
There are about 20 students signed up so far and more are welcomed, Sekhon said.
“We hope more people join as the school year goes on,” Sekhon said. “We hope it grows and flourishes.”
Carbajal said he’s excited that the Sikh Honor Society is starting since the students are known for their focus on academics.
“Some of our best students are in here and now they’ll be doing a lot of volunteer hours so we’re excited for both the Sikh community and the community at large. The more of their culture they bring in with their hard work, they can emphasize that and it’s good for everybody.”