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Surrey students take home Punjabi literature prizes

Five Surrey high school students are celebrating after winning youth Dhahan Prize
Winners Gurkirt Kaur Manhas and Balreet Kaur Randhawa with teacher Ms. Singh. (contributed photo)

Five high school students from Surrey are $500 richer after being named winners in the youth portion of this year’s Dhahan Prize.

Founded in B.C. in 2014, the Dhahan Prize celebrates and encourages excellence in Punjabi language and literature, with all entries required to be in both English and either of the two Punjabi scripts Gurmukhi or Shahmukhi.

There are eight Dhahan Prize Youth Awards handed out annually to secondary students, each with a cash prize of $500, in addition to three top adult prizes.

The winners’ stories will also be published in an anthology titled Lofty Heights.

Surrey’s 2022 Dhahan Prize Youth Awards winners are:

  • Gurkirt Kaur Manhas (L.A. Matheson Secondary)
  • Balreet Kaur Randhawa (L.A. Matheson Secondary)
  • Prabhseerat Kaur Aulakh (Princess Margaret Secondary)
  • Sukhleen Kaur (Princess Margaret Secondary)
  • Hmeet Kaur Rai (Queen Elizabeth Secondary)

“This was a great year for Surrey students at the Dhahan Prize,” said L.A. Matheson Punjabi teacher Gurpreet Bains, who helped found the youth portion of the awards in 2017, in a release.

“It’s always amazing to see our students excel in their work and be recognized like this for their accomplishments.”

READ ALSO: Surrey writer given $10K prize for Punjabi-language stories

L.A. Matheson principal Sunny Deol said it was great to not only see his students recognized, but to see a culture that is so important to so many Surrey students and families celebrated and encouraged.

“When I went to school there was only French and English classes being offered,” he said.

“Now students have so many more options. For many students here at L.A. Matheson, a course like Punjabi encourages the exploration of one’s own identity and when kids see good things happening like these awards that celebrate that language, they make a deeper connection to it.”

Bains echoed Deol’s comments, noting that while many students may grow up hearing and speaking Punjabi at home, learning to read and write it is another thing completely.

“Students are sometimes surprised at how difficult it is to learn literacy in the language they think they can speak and how formal Punjabi is very different than the spoken form,” said Bains. “However, once they begin to learn the basics, we see that students begin to feel more connected to their history, culture and ancestral roots and they take pride in being able to do things like reading the local Punjabi newspapers to their parents and grandparents.”

The 2022 Dhahan Prize also featured a focus on Indigenous writers, with the keynote speaker being Indigenous author and advocate Lynda Gray.

The youth component also recognized three poems written by Indigenous youth from L.A. Matheson, which will be included in this year’s anthology.

Recognition went to students Summer O’Donnell, Matayo Baker and Jasmine Forrester.

“These students are part of the Nch’7mut Program that celebrates Indigenous voices,” said Bains.

“Throughout the course, students had worked on finding, exploring, and sharing poems and stories under the guidance of Kwantlen First Nations poet and playwright Joseph A. Dandurand, as well as their teacher Ms. Lavallie.”

For more information on the Dhahan Prize, visit


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Tricia Weel

About the Author: Tricia Weel

I’m a lifelong writer, and worked as a journalist in community newspapers for more than a decade, from White Rock to Parksville and Qualicum Beach, to Abbotsford and Surrey, from 2001-2012
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