Clovis native goes to India to help repair destruction from tsunami.
If you didn't see Judge Singh Brar on Wednesday to wish him a happy birthday, you'll have to wait about three months.
Brar, a Clovis general engineering contractor, was scheduled to say goodbye to his family early today before driving to San Francisco to a catch a noon flight overseas on his first leg to Great Nicobar, hundreds of miles off the southeastern coast of India. The island was battered by the Dec. 26 tsunami that killed thousands of people in 11 nations.
The focus of his volunteer mission will be to help rebuild two sawmills and 70 homes that were destroyed when the disaster struck, Brar said Wednesday as he finished packing and making last-minute plans for his three-month stay aboard.
Owner of J.S. Brar Co., Brar said his job probably will consist of managing the construction, but that he will be ready and willing to assist in any other capacity as needed, including restoring water systems and the gurdwara or Sikh temple.
But time is running out.
Brar said he's been told by people on the island that whatever is going to be done will have be done by April.
"Apparently, that's when the monsoon season starts," he said.
Brar said that from the first day he and the rest of the world learned of the tsunami disaster, there was no doubt in his mind that he would be playing a role in providing some type of help.
"There was this overwhelming feeling to do something," Brar said.
That desire was fueled by his family roots. Although he was born in Clovis 53 years ago, his parents were born in India.
His father, Kehar Singh Brar, came from Punjab and, in 1913, settled in Clovis, where he became a farmer, working about 70 acres of vineyards near Bullard and Temperance avenues, where the family still lives. Kehar Singh Brar died in 1987. He was 94.
Brar said he first thought about going to Banda Aceh to volunteer his services, but then decided on Great Nicobar for several reasons, including the history of the island, which he found linked better to his father's history.
Brar said the Indian government allowed Punjab farmers to settle on Great Nicobar, one in a small cluster of islands in the Indian Ocean.
"They lived there among the soldiers, worked hard and had wonderful homes," he said.
And as a Sikh, he said, he will be working with the nonprofit UNITED SIKHS, who are coordinating some of the relief effort on the island.
Brar, who graduated in 1970 from Clovis High School and in 1975 from California State University, Fresno, where he majored in marine biology, has been in the engineering contracting business for about 20 years. His company has worked on landscaping projects on Highways 180, 168 and 41, both under the California Department of Transportation and for Fresno County's Measure A.
Brar said his journey would not be possible without the support of his family. His wife, Dolly, a native of India, will be in charge of the business while he is gone.
"I'm very proud of my father," said his daughter, Valarie Kaur Brar, 22, a Stanford graduate who is enrolled as a first-year student Harvard's divinity college.
Valarie Brar has been busy in recent days on the Internet, spreading the word about her father's trip and asking for donations to purchase supplies for relief and reconstruction of Great Nicobar.
Judge Brar is spending his own money on the trip, and no donations will be used to finance any of his personal needs.
The father and daughter have agreed to communicate on a regular basis so that he can relay information about what is needed on the island and to announce progress reports.
"Here is a way for all us to be connected with each other and with the tsunami victims through my dad's work," Valarie Brar wrote Tuesday in one of her e-mail messages.
"His work will help change the devastation on the island, but the helping will also change him; and all of us deeply invested in this project. Every bit of support matters."
HOW TO HELP
Anyone wishing to donate to the relief and reconstruction effort at Great Nicobar may contact Valarie Kaur Brar at Valarie@Stanfordalumni.org or at (650) 269-2792 for more information.