Background context of SEF-in creating social change.
In year 1980, Birmingham City Local Authority encouraged the formation of ‘Asian Teachers’ Association’ (ATA) in order to tackle issues concerning recruitments and promotions of Asian Teachers in Birmingham. All South Asian Teachers, numbering around 80, working in Birmingham were invited to elect their representatives. One of SEF’s current executive member and former headteacher Mr Avtar Singh Mangat was elected as the first secretary of ATA. As a result, Chief Education Officer at the time Mr Hammond used to invite the executive committee of ATA discuss issues such as equality of opportunity and diversity.
The South Asian politics during 1980’s impacted the collegiate relationships between teacher communities, majority members started losing interest in ATA, the Muslim teachers were keen to form their own association and Hindu teachers at the time too were planning to exit. This left the Sikh teachers who then formed Sikh Teachers Association in the early 90’s. With so few Sikh teachers, it was felt that the STA needed to be more inclusive of other occupational disciplines ie, social workers, classroom assistants and lay workers. In 2002 members formed Sikh Education Forum in order to accommodate other human resources interested in education matters aiming at promoting cultural, linguistic, social, spiritual, moral and academic interests of the Sikh community.
Formation of Sikh Education Forum (SEF)
Evolved from ATA and then Sikh Teachers Association, SEF was born in 2002, the SEF has a long history of supporting educational priorities which specifically related to national curriculum and extracurricular educational plans. SEF’s developmental activities included religious education, raising awareness or diversity and equalities issues, helping children and young people build confidence and self-esteem through mentoring, school assemblies, celebration of festivals, language learning and connecting with the inner self and Sikh spiritual teaching. All of these educational activities were underpinned by the Personal Social Health and Economic (PSHE) priorities for schools and young people.
Educational activities which also included Supplementary school with a focus on the Sikh ethos, history and philosophy were mainly led by the late Mrs Surinder Kaur Saund who continues to be sorely missed. Mrs Saund is remembered dearly by her students and is described as a teacher with an indomitable energy and passion.
SEF has been instrumental in working with all age groups, from primary to up to 100 years of age in other words from ‘cradle to grave’. Adult programmes in the SEF’s long history have included organising outings and trips of national interest for all age groups which ranged from Sikh Museum in Derby to the beautiful valleys of Scotland, Lickey Hills and Island of Wight to name a few. Our members have been able to enjoy their visits often with families and friends at discounted prices.
As part of the wellbeing priorities of SEF, for the members and other members of the diverse communities, SEF has been delivering Healthy lifestyle programmes and in 2015, attracted Lottery funding to run Health Information Awareness Citizens’ (HIAC) Project which comprised a series seminar workshops for diverse members from the South Asian community in Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Walsall and Wolverhampton. The Aim of these activities was to help men and women learn better ways to regain fitter and healthier lives especially since hundreds of post-55 residents experience anxiety, obesity, asthma, diabetes, high blood pressure and other forms of ill-health.
These health project opened up a whole gamut of new experiences leading to addressing 4 main areas of health concerns.
- General Health Condition – Beneficiaries learn about health conditions and their effects on emotional, physical, social, environmental, and spiritual well-
- ‘About Your Feelings’ – Managing daily challenges in terms of making decisions especially when ‘under the weather’ or other mixed emotions.
- Diet-Nutrition– Discuss the type of foods, drinks and other dietary intake used on a daily basis and the essential vitamins the body needs to function properly through workshops delivered by professional health clinicians.
- Physical Activity – Beneficiaries invited to look at personal fitness situation and discuss regular physical, mental and other forms of exercises. Setting up of walking clubs.
Quotes noted from beneficiaries
- “I can’t thank you enough for all the advice on diabetes that you offered me”. (Bangladeshi Women’s Association).
- “We learnt a lot from Sikh Coaching and what the Sikh and Muslim religion says about health” (Bangladeshi Women’s Association).
- “We should have more of this in our Gurdwaras, health is important”. (Guru Ka Niwas, Wolverhampton).
- “I suffered with depression and it is something we in the Asian community don’t talk about”, I really appreciate what you are doing for us here”. (A participant at Sri Krishna Mandir, Sandwell).
- “I heard about dementia but never knew what it was, now I know about it, thank you” (GKN).
- “I now have better knowledge of what alcoholism can do to people; I didn’t know that we had any problems” (A participant at GKN).
- We can’t thank you enough for all your work” (Sri Krishna Mandir).
- “Fantastic efforts, we are looking forward to you coming into Smethwick”, (Gurdwara Sevadar).
Health and Wellbeing activities with the wider South Asian communities.
SEF’s core belief is to help create social cohesion, harmony and the kind of society that is just and that espouses to the shared ideals and values of human rights. Moreover, our aim is to strengthen and improve inter -faith relations at all levels and increase understanding between people of religious and non-religious beliefs. We understand the value of creating and maintaining amity amongst different faith groups as we aspire for more peaceful society in which all communities can function to the best of their potential and abilities.
SEF’s interfaith and health activities at the Shri Krishna Mandir (West Bromwich)
Issue based concerns
We are aware that we don’t live in an ideal world and there are an array of challenges that continues to plague the Sikh community at different levels from within that is internal conflict as well as external factors which impinge on people’s lives and lifestyles. There are taboo based concerns that the Sikh Education Forum has taken up head on. These include caste-based discrimination, workshops around safeguarding our young people, excessive use of alcohol, role of the girls and women in the society, human rights, domestic abuse as well as child grooming and bullying in schools and at workplace. We create open platforms through workshops and conferences for communities to discuss, debate and find collective solutions to the some of the taboo subjects.
Book Launch by Sikh Education Forum (SEF) “At War” 4 Pillars of Falsehood- Public of Republic by Aridaman jit Singh (5 September 2015)
From time to time, SEF has helped to amplify human rights abuses taking place globally. Aridaman Singh a celebrated author approached SEF to help launch his book “At War” 4 Pillars of Falsehood- Public of Republic. In Singh’s words he was compelled to write the book based on his own experiences of working in an senior police officer. Singh began working on the issue of “Fake Encounters” and realized that these were a mere symptom of a rogue power formation of cancerous colonial legacy and entire “Security & Justice” sector needed a radical overhaul with complete deconstruction of existing anti people edifice and reinventing of pro-people public led police and Judiciary.
During the launch, appreciative audiences queued up for their signed copy of the book.
Covid 19- Newer ways of working
SEF’s AGM: 16 August 2020
The pandemic which erupted at the beginning of 2020 catapulted all organisations into working differently and SEF was no exception. SEF’s AGM was due and for the first time in its history it was planned to be held via Zoom in which 36 paid members attended to elect the Office Bearers and Executive Committee. The membership democratically those members based on trust, compassion, and for their professionalism as well as integrity. Both the founder members Mr Santokh Singh Saran and Rajinder K Bhogal the long-standing treasurers were voted in to continue in their roles. Both members were praised for their immaculate management and responsibility of the SEF’s accounts and long terms plans for SEF and working during pandemic were discussed.
All of SEF’s services are now online, but not all of the members especially those over the ages of 70 were technically literate. SEF’s Treasurer Rajinder Bhogal at times when Lockdown rules were relaxed showed individuals on how to use Zoom an platform which has now become a prominent feature of keeping the communities engaged.
Since the AGM of August 2020, the SEF Committee has undertaken phenomenal amount of work both online and offline.
Some of the these activities include: online quizzes, history lessons, social gatherings, reaching out to newer groups, engaging with those who are experiencing isolation or bereavement, holding spiritual sessions, Talks with Heath clinicians, consultation meetings, team meetings, strategizing and developing action plans and organising musical social events. SEF also commemorated Bandi Chorh divas or day of liberation: https://theasianindependent.co.uk/sikh-education-forum-commemorate-day-of-liberation/
The Chardi Kala Magazine Project
During this time SEF was able to attract National Lottery Community Fund to create a Magazine for the local communities with a focus on keeping positive and informed with accurate information in both Punjabi and English during these unprecedented times. To find out more, please click here. https://theasianindependent.co.uk/chardi-kala-magazine-an-initiative-of-the-sikh-education-forum/.
A Way forward
As part of SEF’s future sustainability plans, the Executive Management Committee (ECM) registered SEF as Company Limited by Guarantee on 15 January 2021, the main reason for this was that ‘Limited’ status builds confidence amongst funders, beneficiaries and supporters, it was felt that this type of professional credibility will prove to be invaluable in achieving SEF’s objectives more effectively and will help to strengthen the organisation’s governance whilst mitigating potential risks from unscrupulous elements. SEF’s plans for the future is to appoint professionals from all disciplines of the society to help achieve the organisation’s aims and objectives. SEF understands that transactional and democratic leadership is at the heart of the success of any organisation. By creating opportunities through funded project work and volunteering, the organisation seeks to build leaders of all age groups so that they become contributors in creating social change conducive to the wellness of all members of the society. Through this article, we have only shown glimpses of SEF’s ground-breaking work over the last 19 years, there is plethora of documented work that remains to be said.
Reminiscing on the transitional journey of SEF, founder member Santokh Singh Saran reflects “the annual membership fee currently is £10.00 compared to £2.00 during 1980s’’
Mrs Gurmit Kaur Ryatt remembers “ I was invited to the ATA meeting held in the Hall of a secondary school, I had never seen so many Asian teachers under one roof before. I became a member and attended many meetings which allowed me the opportunity of meeting many inspirational teachers like Mrs Sudarshan Abrol, Surinder Saund, Mr and Mrs Surjit S Kalra (who happened to be long lost contacts from Nottingham). It was comforting to know that ATA was closely affiliated with National Union of Teachers NUT”.
Next year SEF will be celebrating its 20 years in existence and despite few of the niggly challenges SEF has come a long way and has a long way to go……
Waheguru Ji Ka Khalsa, Waheguru Ji Ki Fateh!
Written by Harminder Kaur Bhogal (Executive Committee Member)
To become a member please write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Current Directors of SEF
- Sharnjit Kaur Dhesi (Chair)
- Santokh Singh Saran (Secretary)
- Rajinder Kaur Bhogal (Treasurer)
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