Surrey is the province’s second-largest city by population after Vancouver, and the third-largest by area after the cities of Abbotsford and Prince George.
Its population is diverse and multicultural. According to the 2016 Canada Census, 57.8% of Surrey residents identify as non-European, 38.7% European, and 2.6% Indigenous. Of its racialized communities, over 168,000 people identify as South Asian, nearly 33% of the city’s total population. (43% of Surrey’s population self-identify as immigrants and newcomers.) The most commonly spoken languages at home are English (66%), Punjabi (17%), other (9%), followed by Mandarin (4%).
The APNI Community Response Network (CRN) supports Surrey’s South Asian seniors. Newly established in July 2021 in partnership with the Vedic Hindu Cultural Society of BC and the City of Surrey, the CRN was doing the work of a CRN long before officially becoming one.
Thanks to the single-handed efforts of Mr. Surendra Handa, seniors from across the city have formed valuable friendships and connections, have become more versed on topics such as personal safety, nutrition, senior health and wellness, finances and financial literacy, insurance, scams, and adult abuse.
APNI is Punjabi and Hindi for “one of our own”.
“After retirement, I met other seniors at my temple,” says Surendra. “I saw that language was a barrier for many newcomers. They were not familiar with how to get the bus, many had never left Surrey to visit other nearby towns, and many were isolated. I wanted to start a seniors centre.”
Surendra asked people to join him socially after temple service. Seventeen people meet every week to talk about seniors’ issues and to play cards. His excellent relationship with members of the city’s municipal office ensures he has access to the latest of the city’s information on services and supports. “Whatever I get, I share,” Surendra says.
“Seniors have the right to feel safe and supported in their homes, whether they choose to live with their children or on their own. They have the right to enjoy the last phase of their life,” says Regional Mentor Jas Cheema – Surrey, South Surrey, White Rock, Langley. “I am looking forward to working with Mr. Handa to raise awareness about abuse and neglect in the South Asian community and where seniors can get help. We held our first It’s Not Right! presentation last month and will be hosting another session on preventing financial abuse soon.”
After a year, 17 members grew to 50. In 2010, the group grew to 75 members. Today, Surendra organizes educational and social activities for over 100 regular members.
“In 2010, we all went on a cruise to Alaska together,” he adds. “Everyone paid their own way. Everyone knew how to prepare for the trip in advance. A bus picked 52 seniors from the temple and drove us to the airport. I was the travel agency!” He has organized ten cruises and tours since 2008, and Surendra and the seniors of Vedic Seniors Parivar Centre have explored all major Lower Mainland tourist attractions and several countries together since 2008.
The onset of COVID-19 in 2020 paused the CRN’s plans for large gatherings. Surendra moved all of his meetings, social gatherings, and presentations to Zoom. He has even organized online concerts, showcasing the musical talents of several of the CRN’s members, and moved its popular yoga classes online.
“We started holding yoga classes in person in 2009,” he explains. “We have qualified instructors to teach the classes. Zoom helped us keep going and the yoga never stopped since we started.”
The CRN still holds yoga classes for seniors three times a week today, moving to in-person sessions where all participants are masked, and back to the online format again to adhere to Public Health Orders. The classes bring, on average, 30 to 40 seniors together per session. (There is a waiting list for membership to the Vedic Seniors Parivar Centre as a result.)
“My seniors also always say: ‘We feel we are young! We don’t feel like seniors!” he says.
For more information about the APNI South Asian CRN and their upcoming activity calendar, please contact Coordinator Surendra Handa at firstname.lastname@example.org. (Mr. Handa speaks English, Hindi, Gujrati, Punjabi, and Swahili.) or Regional Mentor Jas Cheema at email@example.com.
Surendra is also our volunteer of the month. Read more about him now.
Written by: Debbie Chow, Links Communication Solutions. Follow Debbie on LinkedIn: @debbiechowabc
(Header Photo: Surendra and his group of seniors visit Historic Stewart Farm in 2017.)