The basics: Harpreet Singh Binning, 35, is a Caltrans engineer by trade but spends most of his free time volunteering for Sikh youth in Fresno.
What he does: Binning teaches Sikh martial arts through California Gatka Dal to some 100 kids every winter, culminating in a statewide competition. He helps organize two yearly camps for Sikh youth each summer and winter. He also helps organize a birthday celebration for the founder of Sikhism every October – a parade that brings more than 2,000 people to Fowler. One Friday night a month, he teaches kids to sing Sikh hymns and play devotional Kirtan music.
Why he does it: Most religions guide followers on how to treat other people. In Sikhism, that’s called “seva,” which means “selfless service.” There are three types of service: physical (donating presence), mental (donating expertise) and material (donating money). Binning strives to be a positive influence on young people, keep Sikh traditions alive and pass on the dedication to community service. “These little things really help you as a community,” he says. “Otherwise, we’re a very individualistic society. Bringing us together is not easy.” Binning and six of his best friends met during Sikh martial arts classes when they were kids. Now they often volunteer together, continuing the seva of their instructor.
The turning point: For the first camp Binning helped organize in 2003, a guest speaker was Parminder Singh, the founder of Guru Nanak Academy in Canada. Binning and Singh bonded that week – Binning said Singh’s devotion to helping the Sikh community was inspirational. But Singh died in a car crash shortly after the camp. Binning vividly remembers crying after hearing the news. It taught him that life is short and reaffirmed his belief in the importance of community service.
Details, details: At the summer camp, around 150 Fresno-area students learn to speak Punjabi, play Kirtan music and study Sikh history for five weeks before a final family-oriented week that their parents participate in, with activities including horseback riding and archery. The winter camp takes place at a camp north of Oakhurst, where students learn how to run a gurdwara (Sikh temple), doing everything from cooking and cleaning to reading scripture and starting their own seva.
What others say: Raj Singh Badhesha, with whom Binning learned martial arts with and often volunteers, says Binning is modest and doesn’t seek attention. “He is extremely dedicated to the children in the Sikh community and serves as a role model for the youth, exemplifying selfless service.”