Nothing worth having ever comes easy. Now that our journey has begun, I can reflect on how far we've come and where God has put us. One of my brother-in-laws once asked me, “Who among Mata Kartar Kaur's ten children is the luckiest?” Without hesitation I told him it was me. I was the most fortunate because my mother died when I was 4 months-old and there is no reason why I should have survived. I was the last of ten children in an era when families were getting smaller. I had to be taken in by my 85 year-old grandmother and I was allergic to cow's milk. In 1956 rural India, that should have been the end of me – it was not. Surviving infancy preceded a lifetime of events that has put me where I am today. I believe this is more than just dumb luck.
Throughout my childhood my uncles told me and my siblings to remember our ancestral home in Chak Bilgaon, district Jalandhar, Punjab. They asked us why we never went there and why we didn't care to keep in touch with our roots. They told us this, yet no one took the time or cared to take us there. Now, at 56 years of age, I have never been to Chak and it remains a place that holds but little place in my mind and heart. My memories are of Rajasthan and my heart is in village 35BB where I grew up and was cared for by Ma and Baba (my paternal grandparents, Mata Jai Kaur & Baba Ram Jas).
Nevertheless, after immigrating to Canada in the 1969 and eventually having children of my own, I've come to understand my uncles' desires of maintaining a connection to an ancestral village. But I knew I had to do something to maintain this connection. I didn't know then what I wanted to accomplish, but I knew I wanted to keep 35BB close to the hearts and minds of the next generation of the Shergill family for whom Canada and the United States would be home.
When I was finally in a position to do something, I began to reflect on the lives of my mother and grandmother. Life for women in Rajasthan in the early 20th century was difficult, and many of the challenges they faced then remain unchanged today. I decided that the best way to honour my mother & grandmother was to help other women in the region that are still struggling through the same issues. That is how the dream of the Mata Jai Kaur Maternal & Child Health Centre was born. But to get it off the ground I needed other's to buy into it and to take ownership of it.
A friend of mine told me that “if you can't get others to believe in what you are doing, you are going to be doing it alone.” I am fortunate that my wife believed in it, my children believed in it and now several of my nieces and nephews believe in it. It was not easy and it is still not easy. We are constantly met with new challenges, but we are 3 years into it and, with the grace of God, we're still going strong. My faith in it continues to grow, and the memory of my mother and grandmother spurs us on.
I remember my grandmother saying that in raising me she felt she was nurturing a mango tree. She knew she would never live long enough to enjoy its fruits or sit in its shade, yet she watered it and fed it hoping that it would be a good source of comfort to others. In raising ten children, my mother and grandmother nurtured a mango orchard that has provided comfort and shade to the next generation of our family. With the children born through the MJK-MCHC, we hope to see our mango orchard grow into a forest to be enjoyed for many generations to come.
Prominent Homes Charitable Organization Ltd.