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UN Ambassadors Visit Number Five Road Gurdwara

By Balwant Sanghera

Richmond’s Number 5 Road is well known as the Highway to Heaven (H2H). India Cultural Centre of Canada (ICCC) Gurdwara Nanak Niwas at 8600 #5 Road was the first place of worship to be built on the east side of #5 Road.That set the wheels in motion for other faith communities to follow.To-day, more than 20 places of worship of different religious denominations including Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity and many others are flourishing along this popular strip of this road now popularly known as the Highway to Heaven (H2H).

A few years ago, CBC did a story-survey about the Most Interesting Places in Canada. Our H2H made it as one of the fifty top such places in the survey. Since the formation of Highway to Heaven Association (H2HA)a few years ago it has been an honour for me to serve as its founder and chairperson.

Earlier this year, BBC approached me to do a story on H2H. For this, their reporter interviewed me and a number of other members of our Highway to Heaven Association (H2HA) at our respective places of worship. This story received very wide coverage all over. As a result of this coverage, I was approached by Global Affairs Canada officials. They informed me that from November 13 to 16, a large number of UN Ambassadors were coming to Vancouver for a Peacekeeping DefenceMinisters’ Conference.  Further, the officials requestedif it would be possible for us to host the U.N. Ambassadors and share with them as to how a number of places of worship along our H2H are promoting inter religious/intercultural harmony.

Management Committee of India Cultural Centre of Canada (ICCC) Gurdwara Nanak Niwas led by its Chairman Asa Singh Johal was kind enough to volunteer to host the U.N. Ambassadors at the Gurdwara and invited members of the H2HA to join them.

On Monday, November 13, it was a great honour for Chairman Asa Singh Johal and the Gurdwara ManagementCommittee to welcome H2HA members and the U.N.Ambassadorsto the Gurdwara. Eleven Ambassadors led by Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations-His Excellency Marc-Andre Blanchard -arrived at the Gurdwara around 9:30 AM and were welcomed by the hosts. After a quick tour and light refreshments, the entire group consisting of about 40 persons got down to business. The UN Ambassadors represented a wide range of countries: Mauritania, Ghana, Jordan, Mali, Guatemala, Peru, United Republic of Tanzania, Finland, Vietnam, Uruguay and Canada.

I had the honour of opening the discussion with a brief summary of the activities and programs we do to-gether as H2HA. These include: 1.Sharing our parking and other facilities with each other from time to time 2. Supporting each other in times of need, 3. Attend /Celebrate and appreciate each other’sSpecial Days/Functions 4. Work to-gether in participating in Steveston Salmonfest Canada Day Parade with a Float 5. Be there for each other when needed.6.Work with each other to promote multi faith harmony.7. Co-ordinate and co-operate with each other in hosting student and general public groups visiting H2H.

Az-Zahraa Islamic Centre representative and Vice Principal of the Az-Zahraa Islamic Academy, Sukaina Jaffer and  Richmond Jewish Day School Vice Principal ,Lisa Romalis ,made a very impressive joint presentation about their mutual co-operation in working to-gether with students from both schools with  diverse backgrounds. Both Sukaina and Lisa stood up holding hands and spoke about their students’ joint activities. The Ambassadors were very impressed to hear that. Az-Zahraa Director of Public Relations, Azeem Moledina, Senior Pastor at Trinity Pacific Church, Frank Klassen, Buddhist Monk/teacher Tenzen Yonten from Thrangue Tibetan Monastery, Winnie Chu and Master Shiu Fong form Lingyen Mountain Temple, Malti Singh from Vedic Cultural Hindu Temple, Balbir Jawanda (ICCC) and Manjit Kaur Johal from ICCC /Art of Living reinforced the collective efforts of the work being done on H2H by H2HA members.

The UN Ambassadors led by His Excellency Blanchard expressed their thanks and appreciation for a very enlightening discussion. He emphasized the beauty of Canada’s policy of inclusion and cultural and religious diversity. A number of Ambassadors includingHis/HerExcellencies Issa Konfourou (Mali), Martha Phobee (Ghana), Kai Sauer (Finland), Sima Sami Bahous (Jordan), and Elbi Roselli (Uruguay) made excellent remarks and thanked the Gurdwara Management for hosting them. All of them commended the work of various stakeholders on our Highway to Heaven and made excellent suggestions.

The visiting diplomats encouraged the attendees to take this model further and urge others to apply it at broader local, provincial, national and international levels. Initiatives like these are needed more than ever beforein our current environment. They suggested that H2HA is in an excellent position to take the lead in this regard. This was quite an appropriate and fitting advice to follow for us all. Learning from each other, working with and respecting each other for thegreater good of humanity is a very noble task. Before leaving for the conference in downtown Vancouver, the Ambassadors greeted the hosts and invited guests warmly and thanked everyone for a verywelcoming, productive, relaxing andenjoyable morning.

Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist.        

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