Last month, I was fortunate to participate in the Sikh Coalition’s very first Sikh Presenter’s Course. It was an empowering weekend which went above and beyond my expectations. The Coalition’s education team, Manbeena Kaur, Satjeet Kaur, and Amardeep Singh, thoughtfully designed this two and a half day curriculum dedicated to training local NY/NJ Sikhs to effectively deliver presentations on Sikhi in schools and community groups. The course was highly professional and engaging, simply another one of many examples of the Coalition’s remarkable achievements.
A friend told me about this program over dinner one night and I was immediately intrigued. I remembered that a good friend and mentor had taken the initiative to create a Powerpoint presentation about the Sikh faith and went to local schools to educate kids about the Sikh community. Word of his presentations quickly spread through the ‘teacher network,’ and within a few months he was overwhelmed with invitations and requests from schools all over the state. I vividly remember him describing those experiences, sharing amusing comments that the kids made and insights gained. I promised myself that I would continue the effort one day. When I heard about the Sikh Presenters course, it felt like the Sikh Coalition read my mind and presented me with an opportunity that turned my ‘one day…’ into ‘today.’
The first day kicked off with a session led by Fred Polirer, a consultant in leadership development, who asked each of us to give a 5 minute presentation to introduce ourselves to the group. It seemed harmless, until I slowly realized that it was a pre-test on our public speaking skills. Suddenly I became nervous, and flashbacks of the days when I participated in speech competitions overcame me. After all fifteen of us spoke, we received evaluations on our overall effectiveness and let’s just say, I had a large margin for improvement. Throughout the day, we learned different techniques to engage audiences, practiced delivering mock presentations, and received constructive feedback by our peers and facilitators. The improvement in our skills from one session to the next was dramatic, and together we were on our way to becoming more confident and capable ambassadors of Sikhi.
The next day we shifted gears and critically reviewed the content we would soon be responsible for presenting. I learned that the presentation went through many phases of development, and rooted back to the one that my Veer had made nearly a decade ago! It was the result of a thorough study of Sikh beliefs, and collaboration with Sikhs from all walks of life, including local area Sikhs and prominent Sikh activists, as well as non-Sikh educators. I was impressed by the careful choice of topics and well-defined descriptions of Sikh practices and ideals. In addition, multiple pages of FAQs with suggested answers were prepared to help presenters tackle common questions. As a Sikh, I feel proud and confident to know that the Coalition uses these excellent explanations of Sikh values to represent my community throughout government, the courts, law enforcement agencies, and interfaith events.
We completed the course with a final evaluation, and I walked away with a bank of knowledge, better speaking skills, and many new friendships. This course enables any person – Sikh or non-Sikh – to become a voice for the community. Hopefully, as more people participate, there will be an army of trained volunteers scattered throughout the US, who can create an impact on the mindset of the next generation. Reflecting on this experience, I’m reminded of those in the previous generations who understood the necessity to educate people about Sikhs and had the courage to take action. Today, they are the Sikh moms and dads who speak in their child’s classroom, granthis who visit hospitals and prisons, and passionate elders who lovingly advocate on behalf of Sikhs. I am grateful to be walking on the ground that they have laid.
Written by Natasha Kaur, Sikh Presenter’s Course Participant
New York, NY 2/15/2010