‘Sewa’ idea of service to fore as Derry Sikhs reopen hub - Amerjit (Simon) Singh Nagra outlines plans for food kitchen and CPR training at gurdwara

An initiative to reopen the gurdwara and cultural centre in Derry as a cross-community hub is to be launched in the coming weeks.

Friday, 18th June 2021, 4:47 pm

The Sikh temple and community centre at the top of Simpson’s Brae has been closed and restricted, like many other vital spiritual and social outlets in the city, for much of the past year due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.

But with light now appearing at the end of the COVID-19 tunnel Derry businessman and educator Amerjit (Simon) Singh Nagra hopes members of all creeds in the city will soon be availing of its facilities again.

Mr. Nagra, a leading light in the NI. Sikh Association, said the last year has been one of reflection and that as we emerge from lockdown the Sikh community wants to open its doors to the wider public.

The vision includes opening up the kitchen. Another proposal is to use the centre to facilitate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) training - a particularly timely initiative given the near tragedy that unfolded when Danish playmaker Christian Eriksen took a heart attack during his country’s clash with Finland at the European Football Championship last Saturday.

“We are setting up some cross-community projects. These will include a free kitchen and CPR training,” Mr, Nagra told the ‘Journal.’

To help with the medical training Mr. Nagra intends enlisting members of the long-established Irish-Indian community in the city.

Kanwar Panesar, the now retired pioneering surgeon who has been a pillar of the local Sikh community since the 1970s, and Dr. Mukesh Chugh, consultant anaesthetist at Altnagelvin, are keen to get involved.

“They and others have volunteered to help me. My medical knowledge is limited to the Boy Scouts! But the recent unfortunate event with footballer Christian Eriksen obviously had an effect on me. I spoke to Uncle Panesar and he encouraged me further.”

The well-known entrepreneur wants the initiative to bring people together and to harness the natural talents and abilities of citizens in all their cultural diversity.

“The beautiful thing is that in our community and all around the city I know people that are much better than me, from medical people, sports people, teachers, cleaners, cooks, they always go out of the way for me.

“They do it out of love, not money, and we should promote that connection right across the community.”

Over the past number of months Mr. Nagra and the Sikh Association have been busy organising shipments of medical aid to India to help people there cope better with the ravages of the Delta variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The community has also sent relief to striking farmers through Ravi Singh’s Khalsa Aid organisation in England.

Mr. Nagra said these projects, as well as the forthcoming initiatives at the gurdwara, are informed by the Sikh concept of ‘sewa,’ a principle of selfless volunteerism derived from the Punjabi word for ‘service.’

“As a people Sikhs believe in sewa and defending the weak irrespective of creed or race,” he said, explaining, “Sri Guru Nanak Ji, the founder of Sikhism, has taught us this principle of humanity. He said: ‘Before becoming a Sikh, Hindu, Muslim or Christian let us become human first.’ This is what we do.

“As an organisation we hope to continue our relationships by focusing on helping the local community irrespective of creed or race. It makes no difference. It’s totally selfless.”

Mr. Nagra believes the business world has a lot to learn from these traditions.

He told the ‘Journal’ that the days of dog-eat-dog business values as exemplified by certain reality television programmes of the last twenty years are numbered.

“It’s now about community and social innovation and entrepreneurship. We need to think outside the box for the greater good.

“Economics is a social science and in the 21st century economics has changed. Business has changed and it’s no longer about maximising profits.”