In the summer of 2017, SAF International began a multi-year Community Development Project to support a highly marginalized Sikligar Sikh community in Gujarat. The Sikligar community is comprised of underprivileged children and families living in extreme poverty. SAF is currently supporting two small communities within Vadodra, Gujarat, consisting of 30 families.
The Sikligar Sikh community has faced discrimination from their own cities and are constantly forgotten and left to fend for themselves. Their locksmith jobs have been replaced and their homes face up to 4 foot floods each year. In desperate times, stealing food was the only option presented for their own survival. The struggle faced by these communities has unfortunately turned into a negative perception of who they are from outside perspectives. When our SAF team first decided to provide aid in the Sikligar community of Vadodra, many locals warned against it and felt it was unproductive to put our resources into a ‘lost cause’. We did not listen and were proven to have made the right decision.
Initially, SAF planned to teach Sikligar children the basis of Sikhism throughout the 2-year period. Unfortunately, these children were far behind in their education, to the extent that grade 5 students were unable to spell their own name in their mother language of Gujarati. This was due to the lack of regulations within Indian schools; children were able to progress to the next grade even if they failed their final exams. Exams began to be monitored statewide beyond grade 5, explaining why the dropout rate for grade 5 students in this community was staggeringly high. Although children were being deprived of an education, they continued to attend school since they were provided with one meal a day and clothing in the form of uniforms.
These revelations led the SAF team to amend the Community Development Project to ensure Sikligar children would reach their true potential. The revision entailed setting up a general Gurmat center and tuition center, which would help educate children depending on their personal learning level.
The after school tuition classes cover subjects such as math, science, kirtan (music), and language (including Gujarati and Punjabi). SAF also decided to hire a female teacher from Vadodra, Gujarat, to teach tuition classes. She was the only girl to graduate from the community.
The turnout was remarkable. SAF had initially began the tuition classes in the Gurdwara, but soon had to rent an additional two rooms to accommodate students. Furthermore, many of the children’s mothers were eager to learn as well so SAF began teaching females during the day. SAF now runs three classrooms simultaneously throughout the day.
Students have made tremendous progress while learning in the tuition classes. The evolvement to the present moment is truly understood when reflecting that these children were initially unable to write their own name, but can now write Punjabi and Gujarati to a comprehensive level.
Moreover, barriers separating the Vadodra Sikligar community with the mainstream Gujarat community have been broken, as they have evolved tremendously in such short time. The community is more accepted, as locals who were previously against our project have now joined SAF’s team of volunteers to lend a hand. Additionally, for the first time in the history of Gujarat, the Sikligar children from Vadodra were able to perform at the Nagar Kirtan (parade) for Guru Nanak Gurpurab along with the other Gujarati children. They performed gatka (martial art) and tabla (music). This event truly uplifted the Sikligar community as the merging of their children with mainstream society was previously non-existing and frowned upon.
SAF is proud to announce this 2-year project has been extended to a 5-year period. Recently, we have been able to improve the sanitation conditions within the community and provide a better water supply. Previously, the limited availability only allowed the community to receive two hours of clean water per day. We have now provided the community with water filters to ensure clean drinking water at all times. Furthermore, SAF was able to install projectors in the Gurmat centers along with offering smart classes, which provide access to computers and electronics such as tablets. This smart technology allows us to teach children with improved visuals and heighten the quality of education provided.