Harambee and Daswand

Right after I graduated college, I moved to semi-rural Kenya. I had heard that there was a historic desi/Sikh population, so I looked for the nearest gurdwara. I found it two hours away on Temple Road in Kisumu, Kenya’s third largest city and the cultural capital of Luo-land.

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara is pleasant with a diverse sangat, but even more exciting was the building across the street — the “Guru Nanak Harambee Dispensary Center.” The dispensary center is as big, if not bigger, than the gurdwara itself. I found it refreshing that the gurdwara not only serves langar each day, but it has devoted equal resources to (re)distributing aid.

It’s hard to give a good translation of “harambee,” but it reflects a community coming together to do good work. If I had to distill it into keywords, I’d pick unity, mobilization, and empowerment. These concepts reminded me of our earlier conversation on daswand. In Kenya, harambee is a means of reaching across differences in wealth, tribal ancestry, gender, and profession. I believe that daswand, paired with seva, attempts to build community in similar ways.

When we discussed daswand earlier, we talked a bit about whether we are all doing our part, where our money goes, and why. In the U.S. context, we know that folks at the very bottom and very top of the income spectrum donate the greatest percentage of their income (~2.5% for those between $5-14,999; 4.4% for those earning >$300,000), while those in the middle rarely give more than 1.6%. Of those who give, most of their money goes to religious organizations.

While Sikh communities certainly employ concepts of harambee to build gurdwaras, how often do we channel this funding into actual services, aid, and distribution? Does the concept of harambee resonate with you as a reader? What are ways that we could better (re)distribute services and wealth? Does the practice of daswand in your sangat contribute to equality, or is it a venue for individuals to grandstand?

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3 Responses to “Harambee and Daswand”

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