Many people around town know Santa Clara resident Raj Chahal as the vice president of the city’s Sister Cities Association, a member of the board of directors on the Mission City Community Fund, and a planning commissioner. What most people don’t know is that Chahal is one of the founders of Boy Scouts of America’s Sikh Troop 600, nicknamed the Sikh Scouts. Troop 600, launched in 2009, is the first troop of its kind in the United States.
“Other Indian-American parents from our Sikh temple and I wanted to expose our children to mainstream culture and broaden our children’s horizons,” Chahal says. “So we looked into starting a Boy Scouts troop. We started off with around eight boys, and now we have about 30 active scouts.”
“My dad took the big step of being the Scoutmaster even though he didn’t have much prior experience,” says Chahal’s son, Ajaipal, a student at Santa Clara High School. “My dad and another man, Steve, taught us things like how to put up a tent, how to start a fire, and they showed us leadership skills. At each weekly meeting, we’d learn a new skill or do something fun. Each month, we do at least one outdoor activity, like biking, hiking, or camping. I am an Eagle Scout.”
“In the beginning, I wasn’t sure I wanted to do the Boy Scouts,” says Chahal’s other son, Amar, a Troop 600 alum who will be attending Santa Clara University in the fall. “But both my parents convinced me to try it, and when I started this, I found the campouts really fun.”
“I was the scoutmaster for over three years, and now, I’m more of an advisor,” Chahal says. “The best thing about being involved in the Sikh Scouts is that [the leaders and I] have been able to impart leadership skills to the younger generation. We’ve also enjoyed learning about other religions and cultures. For example, we met a Jewish Boy Scout Troop, and we invited them to our Sikh temple.”
Raj credits his supportive wife, Daljit, the participating boys, and their dedicated parents for the troop’s success.
“Also, Steve Kahermanes, a commissioner with the Boy Scout Council, attends each of our meetings,” Chahal says. “Steve … has done so much for our group. He inspired us to believe that since he could do so much for us, then we could do a lot for others.”
“Sikh is a religion, it’s not an ethnicity,” says Ajaipal. “You can be of any race, and be a Sikh, although the biggest Sikh population is from Punjab. You don’t have to be a Sikh to join the Sikh Scouts. We do meet at the Sikh temple so there’s exposure to Sikh values – believing in one God, doing community service, helping others, and being honest.”
Boys joining Troop 600 should be at least in the sixth grade, and under 18 years-old. For more information email firstname.lastname@example.org.