The Dhahan Prize is grateful to have supporters around the world. Its off-shoot program, the Dhahan Youth Award, couldn’t be where it is today without the support of teachers in the Surrey School District, volunteers and generous donors.
In this article, we highlight the passions of Gurpreet Bains, Languages Department Head at L.A. Matheson Secondary School. Below, she expresses her support for the impact of the award:
I have been a facilitator and co-organizer of the Dhahan Youth Award, a charitable program run by the Canada India Education Society (CIES), since 2017, the year it launched.
But first, a little bit about me. In 2008 when an opportunity to teach a Punjabi language class came up at L.A. Matheson Secondary School, I felt inspired to take on the initiative.
Since then, the program has grown to eight classes and two teachers running the program. The program not only teaches literacy in the Gurmukhi script, but also fosters students’ connection to Punjabi culture. This builds strong cultural identity with their families and communities, both in and outside of school.
Having our youth learn this language means they can connect to its rich culture, along with the social and political lives of Punjabi’s around the globe.
Moreover, creative storytelling through this Award encourages them to reflect on their feelings, emotions, social issues and relationships – all through the lens of their mother language.
Over the years, the Award has become well known among Surrey’s Punjabi youth population. Students look forward to writing their stories every year.
This opportunity creates literature for the kids, by the kids. The bound and published book, Lofty Heights, with its yearly editions, has been a key tool in my classrooms. Having students read literature produced by other youth makes the stories relevant to them, especially since they use the Canadian landscape as a background.
In my classroom, the stories ignite beautiful discussions around various themes that students have chosen to write about. Familiar topics include mental health in youth, migration experiences, bullying, social issues like abuse and neglect, the importance of mother language and more.
The Lofty Heights anthology is translated into English and French, making it accessible to other departments and general readers. This builds bridges between cultures and generations of families who have migrated to Canada.
The program’s workshops with well-known authors and keynote speakers have been my favorite addition to the Award’s growth. They have become not only successful, but popular. It’s rare to have intimate conversations in a smaller school setting like these. The authors’ biographies and live storytelling draws a lot of praise. It also provokes ‘big’ ideas in the minds of our youth.
The Award and its events have strengthened connections between Punjabi, English and Indigenous school departments and students in Surrey, which are all invited to participate.
The presentation of the Youth Awards alongside the larger, adult-focused Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature, is a unique opportunity for youth to learn from and get inspired by seasoned writers and authors. It gives them a lifetime of encouragement to stay connected to the language and literature.
Overall, thanks to this Award, the school has seen a huge improvement in the love of language. I see students investing in more Punjabi literature. Some are privately tutoring younger kids who want to learn the Punjabi language, but who do not have it available at their schools.
Finally, I can testify that the dedicated team of organizers, planners, jury and sponsors have made sure that the prize is reputable and consistent.
Languages Department Head, Science & Learning Support Teacher