An US delegation of teachers, who are undergoing a three-week course on the Sikh religion and identities at the Center for Studies in Sri Guru Granth Sahib of Guru Nanak Dev University (GNDU) here, aims to propagate the lessons learnt here around the globe through social websites and digital medium.
The delegates are guided by an objective to end hate crimes against the Sikhs and infusing a sense of belonging into the Punjabi students in American schools.
Speaking to Hindustan Times about what propelled them to come to Punjab and their future plan on how to end the incidents of hate crime, Y Johanson from St John’s University, Queens, New York, who is also the director of the project and the brain behind the initiative, said: “We felt a strong need to visit Punjab to learn about the Sikh religion and identities as there is a big number of Punjabi speaking students in our schools.
But, unfortunately, neither the students are able to express their problems to us nor we teachers are able to understand them. We want to learn about the Punjabi culture as it is our duty to make Sikh students in the US feel comfortable.
They are Indian-American citizens and we want them to grow as good Americans, which is possible only if we understand them.”The delegation also divulged some details about their project that aimed at sensitising youths and teachers from various countries and ethnicity in the US and globally through social media websites and digital medium.
Frank Pelluso, who has already started developing a website, ‘India Fulbright Project 2015’, and is updating lesson plans along with photos, said: “We are digitising our course, and everything we learn here, I am putting on the website and various other social media platforms so that teachers and students around the globe can take online lessons on the Sikh religion and identities and can help reduce hate crimes against the Sikhs globally.”
The course — ‘Fulbright Hays 2015 Group Project: Exploring Punjabi/Sikh Culture and Language’ — is being attended by recommended teachers from various religions and ethnicities. The delegates feel the course will bring them closer to the Punjabi youth and enable them to tell other teachers and youths about the Sikhs and their identities that will definitely reduce hate crime incidents. They believed that hate crimes exist at a certain level.
Jerry Tanka said, “I have students from more than 12 countries and I feel Sikh boys are quite closed off. There can be many reasons for this. There are incidents of bullying and teasing them by other students, but we teachers don’t tolerate it. Sikh boys need to be respected in our schools, and thus, sensitising students from other countries is important.”
“There are times when other students seek to know about Sikh’s head gear (turban) and beard, but a 12-year-old Sikh boy is unable to explain the meaning and importance of the Sikh identities to them, and that’s where our duty starts. If the boy is being questioned and is getting uneasy with the queries, I need to jump into the conversation. But for that, I need to sensitise myself first,” added Jerry Tanka.
The delegates say Punjabi students are very expressive and loving, but due to language problem they find it difficult to express themselves clearly.
“If we want them to be one of us, it becomes our duty to learn their language and encourage them to express themselves. After visiting India, I am sure we will understand Punjabis better. One thing that I have already understood about them is that they are very hospitable and loving. They need to be respected in the US too,” said Kim Marie Cespedes, a delegate.
The 15-member delegation arrived here on Saturday as a part of an exchange programme following a collaboration between the Centre for Studies in Sri Guru Granth Sahib of Guru Nanak Dev University and US-based the Fulbright Foundation.