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Surrey Schools students recognized at Punjabi literary awards

thumbnail_surrey-dhahan-youth-award-winners.jpgThe six Surrey Schools winners of this year's Dhahan Prize Youth Awards. From left to right: Rehat Kaur Aujla, Kavin Singh Mahal, Harmeet Kaur Sond, Kushleen Kaur Khinda, Jasleen Kaur Uppal and Jenci Mann.Six students from Surrey secondary schools were among eight youth recognized last week as part of the 2023 Dhahan Prize, a literary award for Punjabi writing. 

The students, all of whom are in Grade 12, each submitted a short story written in the Punjabi script Gurmukhi and earned a $500 prize for their winning submissions:

  • Rehat Kaur Aujla (L.A. Matheson)
  • Jasleen Kaur Uppal (L.A. Matheson)
  • Jenci Mann (L.A. Matheson)
  • Khushleen Kaur Khinda (L.A. Matheson)
  • Harmeet Kaur Sond (Princess Margaret)
  • Kavin Singh Mahal (Princess Margaret)

Two students from the Dasmesh Punjabi School in Abbotsford were also Dhahan Prize Youth Award winners: Sahij Kaur Baath and Ishmeet Kaur Johal.

Founded in B.C. in 2014, the Dhahan Prize is an international adult writing competition created to celebrate and encourage excellence in Punjabi language and literature. The Dhahan Prize Youth Award was founded in 2017 through a partnership between the Coast Capital Foundation and L.A. Matheson Secondary to encourage student participation in Punjabi literature.

“These youth awards were created to give students learning Punjabi an opportunity to showcase their creative writing skills outside of the classroom,” said L.A. Matheson Languages Department Head and Punjabi teacher Gurpreet Kaur Bains. “Now, when our youth sit in the same room with authors from all over the world and are celebrated, it encourages them to be lifelong learners.”

This is the second year there has also been an Indigenous element to the awards event. This year Queen Elizabeth Secondary student Shonteya Walker’s poetry was recognized and will be featured alongside the other winning youth entries in the Lofty Heights anthology, an annual publication featuring all of the winning works.

L.A. Matheson Secondary student Rehat Kaur Aujla said crafting her submission wasn’t as simple as writing something in English and translating it into Punjabi. Rather, she had to think in Punjabi about what she was trying to say, ensuring her cadence properly illustrated her vision while remaining faithful to the Gurmukhi script.7C4E8E27-D883-446B-B702-0E78E7B6487F.jpeg

“It can be hard if you’re translating from English into Punjabi because there’s a lot of different ways to say or describe things,” she explained. “Sometimes there’s not a direct English translation available for something, so I had to be mindful of that flow in Punjabi.”

Aujla said she decided to take part in this year’s content because she wanted to not only test her skills in Punjabi, but also shine a light on a subject she feels strongly about.

“My story is about colourism,” she said. “I grew up seeing the results of colonialism around me and how it’s impacted people and so I wanted to bring awareness of that."

After refining her submission over a few months, Aujla was elated to find out she won, and felt that the process had brought her closer to her culture.

“My family is very proud to see me doing stuff like this in Punjabi, and it feels really good to be exploring my heritage like this” she said. 

Aujla recommends any students with even a passing interest in Punjabi take part and submit something for next year’s Dhahan youth prize.

“It’s such a great learning opportunity and a great way to show off the skills that you’re learning in class” she said. “Not only will it help you connect with the Punjabi culture, but it’s also a chance to raise awareness for any issues that might be important to you or the community.”

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