Bhai Jaswant Singh in front of the Imperial Regional Detention Center Facility.
Sikh Americans from all over Southern California got together to do a very unique type of sewa on Saturday November 11, 2017. Nine sewadars; many female college students; some slightly older adults including Bhai Jaswant Singh of the El Centro Gurdwara spent the better part of the day doing sewa at the ‘Imperial Regional Detention Facility’, in Calexico about 20 mins away from the El Centro Gurdwara.
Some of the young Sikh American sewadars coordinated with the Chaplin of the facility, Richard Barnes, about 6-7 weeks earlier so that they could get permission to not only give much needed supplies to the 700 plus detainees at the facility. Out of the 700 plus detainees, over 300 were from India, with a majority of them identifying themselves as Sikh.
The sewadars were allowed to go about four and a half hours on Saturday afternoon on November 11, 2017. They took clothes, socks, toiletries, 120 gutkas, 500 meters of dastar material, and other miscellaneous items to donate to the detainees.
The sewadars held three separate diwans for the detainees. One diwan was held specifically for the female detainees which had about 25 women who attended the services. The next one had 150 plus men who attended the diwan, where Japji Sahib was recited with one of the detainees leading the service. The final diwan consisted of a group of 100 men who attended with one of them who played the ‘tabla’ during Anand Sahib and an Ardas was done at the end of the diwan. The diwans were attended by not only Sikh detainees, but also by people from Somalia, Syria, and Mexico.
Some of the donated items were left at the El Centro gurdwara so that it can be used in the near future.
All the sewadars were given a tour of the facility. Each dormitory houses 64 which had bunk beds where food is provided in the dorm itself with multipurpose rooms. There is a library but did not house any books in Punjabi at all. The kitchen did have Indian detainees who got paid $1 a day to work and the meager money went towards buying incidentals or making phone calls to their home countries.
This particular detention facility is run by MTC, a private prison contractor which manages some 63 other facilities.
The warden was very pleased with the outcome and agreed to allow up to 15 volunteers every 3 months moving forward. Over 100 Sikh detainees requested dastaars. Currently Bhai Jaswant Singh from El Centro has been training the detainees in ‘kirtan’ as it is allowed. There is a need for musical instruments and a set of six harmoniums and six tablas would be appreciated if anyone is willing to donate. The sewadars are also looking to collect books in Punjabi, Hindi, and Gujarati. Please Contact Simran Singh for more information about this seva project: firstname.lastname@example.org
These young Sikh American sewadars are doing a yeoman service through their committed sewa and following the ‘Guru’s advice’ of helping others in need.