In post-Communist Moscow, Sukhmani Kaur was the only white female Russian embracing her faith on her head in the form of a turban as she channelised the Sikhi culture that she had been curious about ever since she was 16 years young and in university.
“My first interface with the Sikh culture was through meeting people who practised Kundalini Yoga and yoga based on Sikh philosophy as taught by Yogi Bhajan. I had never heard of the Sikh faith before but I wanted to learn more about it,” recalls Kaur as she speaks about her trip to India in 2000.
If one met Kaur today, nobody would have surmissed that two decades ago she had travelled to India without speaking either English or Punjabi, both languages that she is now fluent in. And it was during the end of the trip that she took Amrit- a Sikh ceremony of initiation or baptism- and from being born in an orthdox Christian family to today educating her three children about the Sikhi faith and simultaenously producing content for the charity Everythings 13, Kaur has had an illustrous 20 years.
YouTube channel and multi-lingual education
“Everythings 13 has been established since 2012 by my late husband Bhai Jagraj Singh. It started with a YouTube Channel called the 'Basics of Sikhi' with a view to create accessible resources for everyone who might not want to read a book or go to the Gurudwara and would prefer learning about Sikhism in byte sizes through these videos,” said Kaur.
Speaking about the inception of the Channel after a Christian person from America had posed questions to the Sikh community and who was curious to receive some answers about them, Kaur mentions of over two thousand educational videos that are available today for perusal of adults worldwide. But today, Everythings 13, is an umbrella charity which encompasses a number of projects run by a team of 15 employees across the UK and about hundred volunteers worldwide.
“We do weekly talks in different Gurudwaras in English and 'Street Prachar' where we are frequently found on the streets, with flyers in our hand trying to explain and educate people so that they are not afraid of the Sikhi faith,” she mentions.
With 15 employees and countless volunteers working in the charity, these street prachars are held in as many languages as possible including- Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Chinese, Japanese and even Thai. Additionally they also have an iphone and android app “Street Prachar” which aims at providing knowledge about the Sikh community from Langar services to women's role in Sikhism. In fact, one of these female employee working with the charity co-ordinates these translations for all documentary, video and audio content.
“We are currently working on a new leaflet about Guru Nanak Dev Ji as this year marks his 550th Birth Anniversary and we are contacting people across different countries and also creating subtitles in different languages for the various videos that are highly watched on YouTube,” she said.
The power of 'Mighty Khalsa' and 'Kiddie Sangat'
In one of these videos, Kaur herself can be seen speaking about the power of meditation and Sikhism in Russian. But Sukhmani also runs two other projects for children- Mighty Khalsa and Kiddie Sangat.
“Under Mighty Khalsa we have published our own books including activity and colouring books where the lessons around subjects such as 'Mool Mantra' among others would help children in understanding the Sikh culture. So, instead of 'Incy Wincy Spider' we have included 'Incy Wincy Khalsa' and these books are available with a CD where the children can hear these rhymes and learning therefore becomes a playful activity for them,” she explains.
Meanwhile, Kiddie Sangat is a Sikh playgroup where children and parents enjoy creating colourful pieces of art like crafts of Harimandir Sahib, Guru Ji's Nishaan Sahib which serves as an educative platform for these children to learn about their history. Kiddie Sangat was started in Southall and now they have eight-nine groups with roughly 300 children participating in them. More importantly, there are quite a few faith and Sikh schools across the UK including a local school in Hayes where in the past Kaur was invited during festivals like Vaisakhi and Guru Purab to speak about the significance and history of the Sikh community.
Faith schools and limited resources
“I started all these concept-based teachings and activites when I realised that resources about our religion were limited and there were many mothers like me who wanted to teach about our faith to our children. All these Punjabi classes were available for the older kids but belief and culture is something that is instilled in the very beginning,” she explains.
A single mother of three children, today Kaur talks about the role of faith schools and how, in her opinnion, some of them have not been able to teach the Sikh faith in its true spirit.
“My kids go to a Sikh school, a school which has Guru Granth Sahib in their premises and one that ensures that children go to the Gurudwara everyday. But they fail to speak about the shaheedi of chote sahibzaade,” she reveals.
'Shaheedi of chote sahibzaade' is an event of paramount significance in the Sikh history which marks the martyrdom of the four sons of the last Guru Gobind Singh after they refused the Mughals' dictat of accepting Islam as their religion. Events, such as these, Kaur believes help individuals, specially children, in fighting against racism and achieving that faith in the religion that they practise. But Kaur, talks about how these schools preferred teaching about Christmas as opposed to the basic fundamentals of their own religion. In light of this, through Everythings 13, Kaur aims to educate as many children and herself in the process about Sikhi faith, a religion that she was not born into, but one that she says, has made her a better person.
“Initially, my parents thought that it was a phase that would gradually wash away. They thought I was a hippie and was caught in that punk rock movement and from being a Sikh, I will soon drift into something else. But eventually, they understood that I became a better person and so, accepted me for who I am today,” Kaur says.
For more information on Everythings 13, visit: https://www.everythings13.org/