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Canada Sikh Community Gets Gift-of-life Plea At Vaisakhi Parade

Harry Haller

Panga Master
Jan 31, 2011
The streets of Surrey, B.C., were lined with tens of thousands of people for the city's Vaisakhi Parade Saturday, and amid the the day's food booths and other festivities, one group was trying to reach the South Asian community with a serious message.

Instead of giving things away in the tradition of Vaisakhi, volunteers with the Amar Karma Organ Donation Society spent the day asking people to sign up to give life.

Surrey Vaisakhi April 19, 2014
Surrey's annual Vaisakhi parade and festival is one of the largest Vaisakhi celebrations outside India. Organizers in Surrey say more than 200,000 people took part this year. (CBC)

The not-for-profit group is trying to raise awareness among South Asians about the need for organ donation. It is a community in which superstitions about the practice remain.

"It's our preconceived ideas about how organ donations work," said campaign manager Loveen Kaur Gill. "People even think, if I sign up, what will happen in my next birth?"

Gill says the participation rate in the South Asian community is among the lowest in Canada when it comes to registering for organ donation.

Jas Gill, whose liver began failing when he was 13, received a transplant five years later.

"It was kind of confusing and scary at the same time. While I was on the list, I didn't know what was going to happen, basically. I was just living living day-to-day," he said.

Amar Karma Organ Donation Society
The Amar Karma Organ Donation Society is trying to raise awareness about the need for organ donation in the South Asian community. (CBC)

Now he's working to help others like his friend, Jagtar Gill, get off the transplant waiting list.

Jas was told that more donations from the South Asian community could increase his chances of finding a suitable blood type match for a transplant.

Vaisakhi, which is about rejuvenation and rebirth, commemorates the birth of Khalsa, the collective body of all Sikhs.

The Surrey event's organizers said well over 200,000 people took part in the parade and festivities this year.

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