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Break the Silence on Domestic Violence with #MeriAwaaz



Let me ask you: Where do you feel most comfortable, secure and unharmed?

I’m going to go on a whim and say that the majority of your responses would claim that home is that place for you.

Unfortunately, for some women and men, home is the first place they would relocate from. Thinking about the roof over their heads and beds they once slept warmly on just allows the memories of trauma and pain to plague their minds.

It gives me a heartache because you think about these women that can’t even go into their house, and we think that our house is the safest place to be in. So if they don’t go to their house, where do they go?

A relevant question by former Corrections employee and Vancouver actress, Mannu Sandhu.

Domestic violence killed 113 women in B.C. from 2004 to 2014, according to the province, and more than 12,300 police-reported victims of intimate partner violence throughout the province in 2013. It is still the most pervasive form of violence against women and they continue to be perpetrated in their homes by the people they love.

Hence, wanting to assume the role of catalysts to break the silence and stigma associated with domestic violence, Jessie Lehail and Mannu Sandhu teamed up in time for International Women’s Day to create dialogue and collaboration within their own community.

On March 8th, 2015, Meri Awaaz, which literally translates to ‘My Voice’, brought up to two hundred individuals together including: high school students, university students, police, politicians, academics and other delegates. Their objective? To break the silence on domestic violence by growing awareness, sparking dialogue, and empowering the community to take action on this prevalent issue.


I had the opportunity to sit down with Jessie and Mannu to learn more of what inspired and motivated them to provide this event that advocates for investment towards domestic violence.

How did you two come to organize Meri Awaaz?

Jessie LehailJessie: The idea stemmed from last November. We had heard stories within the mainstream [media] but also South Asian domestic stories – people like Manjit Panghali, Maple Batalia and Narinder Kaur Kalsi and a few others were all victims of domestic violence and all passed away because of it. We did more digging and found some really interesting stats like one in four women within their lives will experience domestic violence. This was alarming, more so were all the women who are suffering in silence. Their experiences go undocumented, and they are experiencing life in hardship because of domestic violence. We are giving a voice to the voiceless.

Mannu: We figured it’s important for us to address those issues in front of the public and to knock on that window constantly to get justification for things, for the voices that are unheard. We want to make sure that we give them a platform for them to get a voice.

This might put you in a vulnerable position, but was there something you had witnessed that made you realize you wanted to be a catalyst for this prevalent issue that’s happening?

Jessie: That’s a really interesting question. Both Mannu and I, within our South Asian circles and mainstream circles, have heard of domestic violence cases with our friends, cousins, neighbours, masseuse, or our aesthetician. But, domestic violence isn’t just a South Asian issue. It spans culture, ethnicity, and socio-economic groups. It’s a national, global and local issue that needs awareness. The fact that it’s all too familiar that every one in four women will be experiencing domestic violence in their life – it hits close to home.

Mannu: I worked for Corrections for seven years… Talking to women – when we would call Mannu Sandhuthem, I could hear the fear in their voice when they say “Oh well, is he getting out? What is his condition now?” – it’s not where somebody has died. It’s women who are living in fear, which can be a very scary thing, knowing that the person that has abused you is now out on the streets and can get you again – it’s a very fearful thought for them and their kids. I know a lot of people say this issue is not just a women’s issue – it’s also a men’s issue at the same time – but I almost think that when a woman is abused or physically abused, they go through a different trauma than a man would. That was an ‘aha’ moment for me.

What do you hope to achieve throughout this entire process?

Jessie: We are not an organization, just two people who created an event, being catalysts wanting to engage different stakeholders and organizations getting them together in a room, create some dialogue, awareness and hopefully get some outcomes out of this conversation. Maybe there’ll be more efficiency, more collaboration, maybe a new idea that they haven’t thought of will arise and we can move steps forward to eradicate domestic violence. 

Mannu: The panelists we chose really addressed the issues that victims have. We wanted to get experts into one room. There’s a lot of promises made by the government, there’s a lot of grants given by the government, but we need to see how they are benefitting the actual cause. Numbers and stats sound great, but is it really helping the people that needs the help? We don’t plan to be an organization; we’re people who want to give a voice to people if they want the voice. We want to use the organizations’ expertise. We want to become catalysts for this issue, and we want to motivate each other to play a bigger role.


Mannu, from your perspective and with the experience you have, why do you think women are so afraid to speak up?

Mannu: It’s fear. It’s fear of losing what they have. They think they have a home, a family, and it’s hard for them to let go of that. It’s that initial fear of “Oh, he loves me, he’s been there for me, we have a long history”. I think that really stops a lot of them to leave, including kids as well. 

Jessie: From my own academic research, there is a lack of speaking up even though you do see something. We need to, as a community in general, be there for one another, providing opportunities and avenues for people to get the help they need. A lot of this is fear and shame; we need to make sure we have a safe and respectful environment as people are vulnerable to provide their personal stories and thoughts. 

So how can we as citizens create more awareness?

Jessie: Regardless of who you are, you need to speak up, enabling those who experience domestic violence to have a voice, connecting them with the correct resources. Ensure you are helping them get the help that they need. 

Mannu: One of the biggest things is that people don’t know where to go. People don’t know where the sources are available. The public can help by just knowing what is actually available. There are lots of things available, it’s just that sometimes, we don’t have the knowledge to access those particular resources.

How has the feedback from the community been so far?

Jessie: Initially, we were a little worried that we wouldn’t get feedback, but in general, we’ve had an amazing response from different organizations, and the provincial government has really championed what we are doing. We have the ability to focus on educating that this isn’t just a South Asian issue, but a global issue. At the same light, we have this opportunity, since Mannu and I are both South Asian, to look at domestic violence from the cultural sensitivities through that lens to make sure that there is enlightenment and awareness. There are certain things that need to be examined through South Asian eyes.

Mannu: We are already in talks with Surrey Women’s Centre, Chimo Society, and also Genesis Family Empowerment Society. This is a great thing for us because we are building our relationships with agencies at this time. A constant dialogue is what helps you create awareness, and we have a lot of youth involved, really getting to the source and really helping them understand that this is a serious issue.

Jessie: I’m hopeful that one ‘aha’ moment will arise from this. This is just a tiny step in the domestic violence battle.

Mannu: Be aware of what is happening in your city. We get too used to stories we heard in the media that somebody’s killed. Sometimes, we get too used to them because it’s happening so often. At this point, I don’t want people to get used to that. We need to work collaboratively and together instead of pointing fingers at each other. Women’s issues are human issues. Far-reaching concerns like gender equality, education, and access to markets affect men and women alike at work, home, and in our communities.


No human being deserves to be hurt, and no one should ever stand in silence. Let’s all join the conversation today and help make a difference:




Krystele was born and raised on the beautiful island of Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands. Although from a tiny community, she was already traveling to North America at the age of 12 to compete and champion international public speaking competitions. Her global perspective has helped her branch out to discover new opportunities when she moved to BC seven years ago. At just 21, she has received a B.A. in Communications from SFU and has already worked for numerous organizations including Metro Vancouver, Canadian Cancer Society, Special Olympics BC, and the BC Non-Profit Housing Association to name a few. She is an entrepreneur, and handles social media for reputable brands. Krystele's passion is to help others find their voice and be heard, as well as inspire others to make the world a better place.


Central City Brewers + Distillers, BC Lions & BC Seniors Living Association Donate Hand Sanitizer to Independent and Assisted Living Communities



Central City Brewers + Distillers teams up with BC Lions and BC Seniors Living Association to donate hand sanitizer to independent and assisted living communities. (From left) BC Lions’ players Claudell Louis, team mascot Leo the Lion, Sukh Chungh and Peter Godber.

Central City to donate 200 mL of hand sanitizer for every sale of Red Racer Cruiser 8-pack Mixer

Surrey, B.C. – Central City Brewers + Distillers is teaming up with the BC Lions and BC Seniors Living Association (BCSLA) on a new COVID-19 campaign where they will donate 200 mL of hand sanitizer to independent and assisted living communities in B.C. for every sale of the new Red Racer Cruiser 8-pack Mixer.

Central City, which is known for its award-winning beer and spirits including the 2019 Canadian Beer of the Year with its Red Racer After Hours Pale Ale, began producing hand sanitizer back in April 2020, in support of Canadians especially COVID-19 front-line workers.

“We wanted to continue supporting our communities and front-line workers during these COVID-19 times and we are fortunate to have the opportunity to partner with the BC Lions Football Club and BC Seniors Living Association on our new Red Racer Cruiser 8-pack Mixer campaign,” says Brendan Yep, Vice President of Sales at Central City Brewers + Distillers. “As community leaders, it is important for us to contribute and do our part, and this is one way we are giving back to the community.”

In April, Central City donated hand sanitizer to front-line workers, healthcare workers and first responders through the City of Surrey. Now in June and July, Central City will donate additional hand sanitizer to independent and assisted living communities in B.C. through this new Red Racer Cruiser 8-pack Mixer campaign.

“We’re proud to lend our support to help seniors living in independent and assisted living communities throughout B.C. by making hand sanitizer more assessible to them through this partnership with Central City Brewers + Distillers and the BC Seniors Living Association,” says George Chayka, BC Lions Football Club Vice President of Business Operations.

“We are very grateful for the initiative and support of Central City Brewers and Distillers and the BC Lions.” said BCSLA CEO Lee Coonfer. “During the COVID-19 pandemic, seniors’ communities have been put under a tremendous amount of strain to acquire the appropriate PPE and sanitizing products in the appropriate quantities to keep their residents safe.

Seniors’ safety is our priority and through the selfless gestures from the community, the tireless work of our employees and acts of corporate social responsibility, we will be able to meet this challenge and get through this together.”

The Red Racer Cruiser 8-pack Mixer includes 500 mL cans of Pils, Hazy Dreamer Pale Ale, Dirty Blonde Ale and Lager, and will be available in private liquor stores throughout B.C. The Central City Hand Sanitizer is also available for purchase (3L and 1L bottles, and in bulk) at all Central City Liquor Store locations and at the brewery store (11411 Bridgeview Drive, Surrey).

About the BC Lions Football Club

The BC Lions Football Club is Vancouver’s and British Columbia’s most successful professional sports organization with six Grey Cup titles: 1964, 1985, 1994, 2000, 2006 and 2011. Drawing on pride, decades of tradition, passion and a spirit of excellence, the BC Lions Football Club seeks to touch the lives of our community in a positive way and is dedicated to serving partners, sponsors and fans.

About BC Seniors Living Association:

BC Seniors Living Association is a voluntary, membership-driven organization dedicated to being a valuable source for member development, education and growth. The organization works to promote and protect the best interests of its members, which include the Independent and Assisted Living communities in BC. The cornerstones of BCSLA is based on actively advocating, educating, mediating and celebrating retirement communities and their residents. For more information, please visit our website:

Social Media: Twitter: @BCSeniorsLiving, | Facebook: BC Seniors Living Association

About Central City Brewers + Distillers:

Central City is a craft brewery and distillery in the business of developing, producing and selling international award-winning, premium craft beer and distilled spirits, made without compromise. Based in Surrey, British Columbia, CCBD won the 2019 Canadian Beer of the Year and was voted Canada’s Brewery of the Year in 2010 and 2012.

Their Red Racer brand has become a cult icon among craft beer enthusiasts throughout North America. Founded in 2003 as a brewpub and liquor store in downtown Surrey, it now also features a state-of-the-art brewery, distillery, warehouse and private liquor store on Bridgeview Drive.

Social media: Instagram: @CentralCityBrew | Twitter: @CentralCityBrew; | Facebook: @CentralCityBrewing

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SurreyCares Community Foundation Part of New Emergency Community Support Fund



$900,000 available in Surrey for charities supporting COVID-19 response

SurreyCares Community Foundation announced it will be providing over $900,000 to support local charities responding to COVID-19 as part of a partnership with Community Foundations of Canada, United Way Centraide Canada and the Canadian Red Cross, funded through the Government of Canada’s $350M Emergency Community Support Fund (ECSF).

This national effort aims to support vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by COVID-19. SurreyCares is one of more than 100 local community foundations across Canada taking part.

“This is a vital step in the fight against COVID-19,” says John Lawson, Chair of SurreyCares. “It’s a difficult time for everyone, and we know that local charities and non-profit organizations have been working tirelessly to support those who are already marginalized in our community. This additional funding is a much-needed boost to their efforts. We’re looking forward to flowing funds quickly to ensure no one in our community is left behind.”

The Emergency Community Support Fund was initially announced on April 21, 2020, by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as part of a series of emergency response measures by the Government of Canada.

“Canadian charities and not for profits are always there to help you in your time of need. But the COVID-19 pandemic is bringing real challenges to these important organizations. With today’s announcement, the Government of Canada will be there for them so they can continue to be there for Canadians.” explained The Honourable Ahmed Hussen, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development.

Starting on May 19, SurreyCares Community Foundation will begin accepting applications for funding from qualified local charities, not-for-profits and community organizations. Grants can be used for a variety of purposes, including staffing, resources, or purchasing supplies. Funding will be issued on an ongoing basis through July 2020. Charities and community organizations are invited to visit the foundation website for eligibility and application details.

“At Community Foundations of Canada, our purpose to ‘relentlessly pursue a future where everyone belongs’ has never felt more important than it does right now,” said Andrea Dicks, Community Foundations of Canada President. “We’re grateful for the leadership of local community foundations like SurreyCares who have been at the forefront of local response efforts since the pandemic was declared.

Thanks to the Government of Canada’s contribution, our network will be able to unlock even more local impact for organizations serving vulnerable groups, helping us set the stage for more inclusive, resilient and sustainable communities.”

SurreyCares’ vision for Surrey is a giving, connected community. SurreyCares’ mission is to inspire donors, grow endowments and invest in people.

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Sikh based groups form Virtual Vaisakhi to raise funds and give back during COVID-19 pandemic/Sikh Heritage Month



As the world is faced with the unprecedented impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, a collective of local Sikh based community organizations have come together to celebrate Sikh Heritage Month and Vaisakhi by giving back.

The collective, through Virtual Vaisakhi (fundraising efforts) and invoking the Spirit of Vaisakhi (volunteer initiatives) are raising funds and working with existing community outreach and non-profits within British Columbia to help ease the related economic hardships faced by the communities in which we live and work.

“Every year there are many Vaisakhi Nagar Kiran events that bring thousands of people together to collectively celebrate Sikhi,” noted Jessie Kaur Lehail of Kaur Project/Virtual Vaisakhi. This year, we are directly asking and inspiring Sikhs and non-Sikhs to collectively open their wallets and hearts to help invoke the Spirit of Vaiskahi to address the most pressing and emerging needs with organizations working with local food banks, seniors outreach, marginalized communities and domestic support services. Let’s celebrate Vaisakhi by helping others. We’re all in this together and 100% of proceeds will go directly to community initiatives.”

Currently the collective includes Kaur Project, One Voice Canada, SAF, Khalsa Aid, Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen, SAMHAA, SikhRi, Future is Partnership, Gurdwara Sahib Dasmesh Darbar, Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar, Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar, SEYVA, S.A.L.M.O.N Project and many others. Guided by the Sikhi based value of Sarbat Da Bhala (service to all) while practicing Charhdi Kala (expansive resilience) and Joash (vibrant courage) and a spirit of giving, Virtual Vaisakhi is asking EVERYONE to invoke the Spirit of Vaisakhi to raise financial support.

As the COVID-19 crisis evolves, the Virtual Vaisakhi campaign and Spirit of Vaisakhi operations will continue nimbly align philanthropic resources based on emerging needs, prioritizing food, medical and emergency assistance for seniors, marginalized and domestic support services. As needs are communicated, it will be of utmost importance for Virtual Vaisakhi/Spirit of Vaisakhi to provide funding to these organizations rapidly.

Virtual Vaisakhi Donate Online

We’re tapping into the strength of collective giving to alleviate the public health and economic consequences of the coronavirus in British Columbia. Virtual Vaisakhi has committed to contributing 100% of money raised to community initiatives. To donate, visit the Virtual Vaisakhi’s website

Spirit of Vaisakhi Operations

With a little less than one week in combining efforts, the following initiatives are taking place:

  • Over 1500 daily meals are being served
  • 100+ grocery/prescription deliveries
  • Glove and mask coordination/delivery
  • Health care snack/meal delivery

To volunteer or request help visit

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Happy Singh Eats & Tandoori Flame, Partner to Offer FREE Meals to Frontline Workers and Those in Need



After spending just over a week and a half making deliveries of pre-packaged meals to frontline workers at Delta, Surrey Memorial and Vancouver General Hospitals, the team at Happy Singh Eats (with support from Tandoori Flame) realized that the community’s need is much greater than they realized. “We started at Delta Hospital, then to Surrey Memorial. After that the Surrey ER and Imaging Centre, VGH ER and the Jim Pattison Outpatient Care and Surgery Centre all reached out looking for similar assistance.

We realized that the need stretched much greater than what we originally thought,” shared Shraey Gulati, Managing Director, Tandoori Flame Restaurants. “We have been blessed to be able to help others, and that itself is another blessing” As a team they have happily obliged to fulfill these requests and continue to do deliveries of hundreds of meals daily to all of these locations for the on-staff frontline workers, however they wanted to consider how they could do more. From that evolved Happy Singh’s Seva Kitchen.

As a subsidiary of Tandoori Flame Restaurants and given that they are not officially open yet, Happy Singh Eats is working with the kitchen team over at Tandoori Flame Delta, just across the road from them, to execute this initiative. Seva is a sanskrit word that means selfless service and is a prominent value within South Asian culture. Keeping that in mind, the answer seemed obvious. Gulati went on to explain that the sentiment of Seva is particularly important for their family ethos. “Our father always taught us to be the giver, whenever and wherever possible.”

Gulati’s father, Galendra Gulati recently returned to Canada from India and his first question when he heard about our hospital deliveries while in self-quarantine was, ‘What about those who are not at the hospital? What about those who have lost their jobs? What are we doing for them?’ He in turn got these thoughts from his father (Shraey’s grandfather), who used to say ‘You have what you have to pass it forward. Help those in need, spread love and kindness. We are JUST a medium.’”

Starting today, Happy Singh’s Seva Kitchen will operate from the take-out window located at Tandoori Flame’s Delta Location (11970 88 Ave, Delta, BC V4C 3C8). Any frontline workers can receive a free meal from their take-out window. They request that if you are in plain clothes that you provide an ID and if you are in uniform, then that’s easy.

They are also offering meals to those who simply cannot afford it right now. COVID19 is impacting our community in so many ways including lost jobs, reduced income, the inability to get groceries and more. If you are in need, we want to help. Free meals will be provided daily between 3pm and 7pm time on a first come, first served basis until meals run out. They do however hope to have enough to go through the entire day.

If however, you are unable to visit within that time frame, you are welcome to come anytime within the take-our hours of noon – 9pm. “We are starting with 3-7pm as we simply do not know what the demand will be like, but we won’t refuse anyone, as long as we have the resources to serve them,” shared Gulati.

When asked how long this program will run, Gulati said, “We don’t know the answer to that yet. We are going to continue for as long as we can and intend to keep our patrons updated via our website.” He also shared that those interested in supporting the initiative can donate meals to the program through their online takeout form at

ABOUT HAPPY SINGH EATS | Happy Singh Eats, the newest restaurant endeavour by Tandoori Flame Restaurants, is slated to open in Summer 2020 with 160 seats inside and 72 outside on a covered patio. Akin to a South Asian version of fast casual dining, it is modelled after popular roadside cafés found all over India providing ready to eat snacks. The new cafe style restaurant will offer dine-in and take-out options with live cooking and over 10 food stations where guests can see popular street style snacks being prepared right in front of them. The menu will include items such as: kathi rolls, a chaat station, a Jr. Happy Singh box meal for kids; thali style meals, Paranthas, a samosa station, a dosa station, traditional curries, pizzas, sandwiches, and more.

ABOUT TANDOORI FLAME | Established in 2009, Tandoori Flame is the largest grand Indian buffet and restaurant in North America. With up to 150 food options and live interactive food stations, the restaurant group now has three locations in Canada – Mississauga, Brampton (Toronto) and Surrey/Delta (British Columbia).

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Local One Billion Rising Events Create 1300 Care Packages for Women and Children



To mark 2020’s, Worldwide One Billion Rising* campaign, the biggest mass action to end violence against women, social justice and faith based organizations came together to hold events in Vancouver and Surrey in February 2020. The main focus was to bring people together to create over 1300 care packages filled with personal hygiene necessities to help women and children across the Lower Mainland. Both gatherings brought an intersection of people and faiths interested in giving back and delving in deeper conversations to enrich their communities.

Elder Gertie Pierre, from the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society welcomed event participants with opening remarks and offered the sacred tradition of cedar brushing, that helped clear negative energy.

Both events had brief interactive question rounds where partnering organizations were highlighted, but also participants were encouraged to exchange ideas with others. At each event, Chas Coultee from the Indian Residential Schools Survivors Society educated participants about Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls. Both the cities of Vancouver and Surrey honoured the events with the reading of official proclamations declaring February 1-7th UN World International Harmony Week, and the assembly of more than 1,300 hygiene packages.

*Every February, we rise – in countries across the world – to show our local communities and the world what one billion looks like and shine a light on the rampant impunity and injustice that survivors most often face. For more information on Background on One Billion Rising:

Care packages were created to support the following organizations:

  • Ama Transition House
  • Azure Place
  • Bill Reid Place
  • Charlford House
  • Cold Weather Shelters across the Lower Mainland
  • Dixon House
  • Durrant Transition House
  • Elizabeth Gurney House
  • Evergreen Transition House
  • Firth Residence
  • Fraserside Emergency Family Shelter
  • Hyland House
  • Jewish Family Services
  • Joy’s Place
  • Kenkinow Native Housing Society
  • Koomseh Housing
  • Maxxine Wright Place
  • Monarch Place
  • Nova House
  • Shimai Transition House
  • Springhouse Vancouver Women’s Shelter
  • Vancouver Rape Relief and Women’s Shelter
  • Vi Fineday Family Shelter Society

This year’s community partners included, Centre For Israel And Jewish Affairs, Global Girl Power, Global Peace Alliance, Guru Nanak Foundation of Canada, Guru Nanak’s Free Kitchen, Jewish Community Centre of Greater Vancouver, Kaur Project, Mustang Justice, Sri Guru Singh Sabha Surrey, Surrey Interfaith Council , The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Vancouver Interfaith Network, World Sikh Organization of Canada, Worldwide Shift Disturbers.

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