Whilst most young Singaporeans went away for the holidays in December 2004, a group of dedicated youths decided to embark on helping orphans and slum children in Punjab, India. Participating under YSA’s Khwaish umbrella, 21 participants went to an orphanage school in Patiala, while 23 participants traveled to a slum school in Chandigarh. The projects took place from 5 – 24 December 2004.

Although the participants had only three weeks, they made full use of their time and contributed substantially to the host communities. The team in Patiala worked with qualified contractors to build and paint six classrooms, adding to the five the orphanage school originally had. They also helped spruce up the school. Their initiative has enabled the school to take in more children from the nearby villages as well as impose a fee for children, whose families were able to afford it, thus allowing it to have a continued source of funding. The Chandigarh team laid bricks and cemented four of the school compounds, helped raise a wall and generally cleaned up the entire school. At both sites, they interacted with the children, teaching them Singaporean nursery rhymes and played football and cricket with them.

The projects also enabled the participants to immerse themselves in the rich and vibrant culture, tradition and heritage of Punjab and its people. They visited the Golden Temple and the temples in Anandpur and Goendwal. They toured the cities of Patiala, Chandigarh, Simla and Delhi. They visited villages in Punjab, interacting with the villagers and broke bread with them. The team in Chandigarh visited two orphanages and a home for the aged. Through meetings and dialogue sessions, they gained deeper knowledge of Sikh history and greater awareness about the socio-cultural issues faced by the community in India.

As Mr Harveen Singh, the team leader in Patiala, put it: “Whilst the participants made a difference in the lives of the locals, they too were transformed by their involvement. They are a different lot from those who went on the project. I am sure this experience will always be a treasured part of all the participants’ lives.” Similarly, Harbhajn Singh, the facilitator for the Chandigarh team, said: “One could see a sense of satisfaction in the eyes of the participants when they completed the project. They knew their little contribution would help the school and the children. To the participants, that was the ultimate joy.”

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