25 years is a long time; at Shan-e-Punjab's (S.E.P.) annual end of year cultural youth show there were 200 performers in 2015, 30 of which were from two dance academies [that were taught by Bhangra & Bollywood teachers at S.E.P.], plus youth volunteers from various high schools. In 2013, 20 years was celebrated at the University of Victoria Farquhar Auditorium with special guest, the Lieutenant Governor of BC the Honorable Judith Guichon. Ms. Sonia Grewal via S.E.P. has helped create and support many events to fundraise, help build organizations and if possible is always there to support anything positive to build community. There are many examples some include the current annual Diwali event held at the University of Victoria Farqurhar Auditorium, S.E.P. was invited in its first year by Dr. Ashok Agarwal, with an audience of 200, S.E.P. performed many acts on this inaugural day in 1997, and has continued to perform since. At the Indiafest, S.E.P. supported the inaugural event for years, held at the City Hall Victoria BC. There is most likely 95 percent of children who are probably all grown up in Victoria BC who have been a student at S.E.P. at some point in their lives. Ms. Grewal's passion is listening to youth, their ideas and putting them in effect and recognizing the youth behind them. She has given so many opportunities, the biggest opportunity she has given youth is teaching, the skills learned while teaching are invaluable which have been used by students to apply for scholarships, post-secondary education, and career opportunities. The other important piece is working in a team, with different personalities, different viewpoints and respecting those views. She has also taught that we do not judge by social or economic status nor race nor the colour of one's skin nor by a belief or that we are better than others or not, simply we come together to learn dance. She has written many reference letters for job applications, post-secondary education or career applications - with mostly all students achieving their goals. At one cultural show, Ms. Grewal was referenced as the "lady who lived in a shoe and had so many kids she did not know what to do" if you have read this story you will understand her role in building and sustaining Bhangra in Victoria and Vancouver Island...all those kids are like her children...for the children she is like a "auntie" or "mother". We know she idolized Wonder Woman in the 1980's growing up, we feel she is truly a Wonderful Woman. At other show's she is referenced as a "fearless leader" and each year students develop their own scripts so each year it is a surprise.
Ms. Grewal's message: I honestly have to say after countless practices, years of choreography, many cultural showcases, lots of check-in circles, endless phone conversations, hours preparing props, time spent selecting music, coordinating ethnic dresses, listening to ideas from youth and planning events and shows year after year, the passion is still there, especially when I see or hear a story how dance has made a positive impact on a child's life. For example, when I see a student's confidence increase, or I hear about a child excited to be back on the stage to perform again, or the reasons for returning year after year or a new friendship developing, or a hidden talent evolving. It is the hard work of our teachers whom once were students themselves and I thank each one of them for their time, passion, creativity and contribution - these are the reasons I continue year after year.
I congratulate parents for taking the time to invest in a very important aspect of learning about one's cultural background through dance, performing arts and song - I thank my mother Mrs. Mohinder Kaur Grewal (nee Deol) for involving me in cultural performances since I was three. My parents purchased our first VHS videotape recorder from Island Video at which I spent hours dancing to Bollywood and Punjabi songs. I thank each parent over the last 23 years for making this an amazing journey. I have always been taught to take the negative and make it into something positive - because it all works out at the end. Each year brings new parents and families while we continue to cherish the ones that have been a part of the school for many years.
I want to also sincerely thank our sponsors; I cherish community and enjoy the feeling of working together while learning from one another, respecting our differences and to give to others - values instilled by my father Mr. Manjit Singh Grewal. The focus on teamwork comes also from my father, as the eldest of the family he would come to me with many small twigs tightly held in hand, and asked me to try to break them. I could not break them, he would say, "if you stay strong together no one can break you". The sponsors have been individuals, families, companies, small businesses, non-profit organizations and the public sector. I want to say my sincere thanks to all sponsors who have been very generous in their support for our senior advanced team trip to Disneyland in December 2012. In Disneyland we were told by executive that Shan-e-Punjab was the first Bhangra team to perform, and on the second day of their performance day, parents were told by the sponsors of the Hollywood lot stage that our team was the first to draw one of the largest crowds they had seen. The students team photograph will be in the executive wall of fame, as exciting as that is, what is important is that these young students get to see their hard work and passion for Bhangra being performed at some of the world's amazing places. Everyone should be proud.
I also want to thank Ms. Carol Vincent of Redbird Communications and her staff, particularly Ms. Amy Martyn, whom made yet another dream come true, combining dance with my career passion which is health promotion. As some of you may remember the senior advanced team participated in the "wedding reception" television commercials that were created for the Heart and Stroke Foundation. These have been aired on OMNI BC TV Punjabi Edition since the Fall of 2012. Also I want to thank Ms. Vincent for creating a 20 year legacy in the form of this book, a tribute to 20 years of dance, performing arts and song on Vancouver Island. The book commemorating 20 years is available if you wish to order one.
I want to make special mention to Mr. Jagir Dhanowa of Island Video whom has always been there to assist and support S.E.P. professionally over the last 20 years. He prepared all our music for our Disneyland performances as per Disneyland requirements. I would also like to thank Mrs. Balbir Thiara for assisting with the idea of the name of our school. I want to thank Ms. Veena Basra (nee Sundher) for creating our previous website and to Mr. Victor Dhami for managing it for the last few years. Also a multi-cultural leader herself, I want to thank Mrs. Buncy Pagely, who provided S.E.P. its first major performance opportunity during the 1994 Victoria Commonwealth Games. I want to thank Mrs. Pinder Cheema (Q.C.), Mr. Ravi Sall, and Ms. Kamaljeet Dhillon for managing the school while I completed my Bachelor in Health Administration Degree (with Distinction) in Alberta. Finally I thank my parents for supporting my passion over the years, at first they were not sure, but as time went on, they realized what a positive difference learning about your culture has turned out to be for many students, and ofcourse my sister Mrs. Amy Khangura for giving the reason to start S.E.P. I am glad the second generation of Bhangra has started in our family as my nephew Gian joined when he was only 4. On this note I share with you a poem I have had for over 23 years:
The More You Give
The more you give, the more you get,
The more you laugh, the less you fret,
The more you do unselfishly,
The more you live abundantly.
The more of everything you share,
The more you'll always have to spare.
The more you love, the more you'll find,
That life is good and friends are kind.
For only what we give away,
Enriches us from day to day.
Guru Nanak said, "To Give is Thy Duty; Reward is not they concern".
It brings tears to my eyes the countless memories I have of all the students, which range from a letter written by a team, a beautiful drawing of girls dressed in their ethnic dresses, a craft made to say thank you, a pink purse that says how much they love dance, an art piece, crafts or simply pictures or video's. I believe in pictures, and I am proud to say I have hundreds of them!
Thank you to you all for being a part of S.E.P. and my life, you have brought me one of the most memorable and unique experiences of cultural dance, performing arts and heritage one could only dream of. My greatest learning has been through my nieces and nephews and the teachers/students of Shan-e-Punjab...
Below is information on my volunteer, professional and community work outside of dance.
Once she completed her Bachelor’s in Health Administration (w/distinction) in Alberta; she joined the public sector in 2000 and started working for the BC Public Service Agency (BCPSA) in the area of job classification and evaluation. She transferred to the Ministry of Health where she currently works and has held many positions. With a Pacific Leaders Scholarship she received her post graduation certificate specialized in performance management. She was a core member of the Project Management Community of Practice composed of many senior project managers across government – where she organized a Learning Day for hundreds of staff across the BC government to educate them about project management. At the Ministry of Health, her first project was with the implementation of the BC HealthGuide www.bchealthguide.org, she was one of five inaugural team members to start the pilot study and foresee the first year of its implementation, and she managed the online program. This is one of the most memorable and rewarding projects for Ms. Grewal as the BC HealthGuide exists today and has been translated to many languages, including Punjabi, serving all British Columbians. She was on the planning committee to leave a legacy piece for the Women of Distinction events, which was the Young Women's Leadership Program for BC. She also worked as a Consultant with projects from Grant Thornton, Vancouver Island Health Authority, Capital Health Region, BC Brain Injury Association and James Bay Community Project. She was the coordinator for the BC Diabetes Program, which she held several hands-on training sessions in Victoria. She has participated as Board Director, for the BC Neurofibromatosis Foundation, Chair of the Corporation of the District of a 26-member Saanich Multicultural Steering Committee (All One Family event - largest crowd recorded was over 5000 in one day, Mayor of Saanich recognized Ms. Grewal for her leadership), Celebrating Our Successes Committee (event for the Ministry of Health), on the the Workforce Engagement and Initiative Committee for the first Supervisor’s Conference across BC at the Victoria Conference Centre, Chair of the Take Your Kids to Work (Federal Govt initiative) for the Ministry of Health, and the Chairperson of the University of Alberta’s (U of A) International Centre’s Rainbow of Cultures Event. While at the U of A as a resident student herself she was also a staff member of the student life at rez. She organized many events to make the life of students an enriching and rewarding one. Sonia received the Cultural Diversity Award from the U of A, as recognition for her work for residence students, including the Rainbow of Cultures event. During that time Sonia was also the recipient for BC, for making a significant contribution to society through Shan-e-Punjab, and was recognized by the Canadian Flare Magazine and the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Ms. Hilary Weston. Sonia was on secondment to the 2010 Winter Olympics as Special Events Manager, where she managed staff across the public sector and coordinated many high profile special events to showcase BC and Canada's resources, products and services, for international, national and local Ministers, organizations, delegations, businesses and Prime Ministers/Presidents. This was not only rewarding and challenging professionally but also personally, where her father won an Opening and Closing Ceremonies package through BC Lotto - she spent time with her family when not working enjoying all major sporting events. Currently she is pursuing her masters with a doctorate to follow.