New Zealand is a multicultural society with a thriving migrant population. The Kiwi-Indian community is an integral part of this country and has contributed immensely financially and through its culture. Although it is a large community, there is an ongoing need to keep its culture alive, its roots connected and integrated with the wider communities. Kiwi-Indians are blessed with many champions who bring vibrant energy and play a vital role in representing the best of this community.
Dr. Surinder Tandon is one of those recognized and respected faces of the Kiwi-Indian community. The list of his initiatives and the organizations he has served is long. He has truly been able to make a difference in his roles within the Indian community, multi-cultural and interfaith councils, Rotary International across Christchurch, neighboring districts of Selwyn and Waikamariri.
Tandon is based in Christchurch, a diverse city with over 180 ethnicities. Tandon believes that every migrant from any country has similar needs and concerns such as language barriers, employment challenges, cultural ties and homesickness. Through various community initiatives and having gone through these concerns himself, Tandon has actively tackled many of these issues.
His journey began in 1988 when a young Tandon moved to New Zealand with his wife Archna. After completing his doctorate in textile engineering at the University of Leeds, England, he took a job at the Wool Research Organization of NZ (WRONZ) in Lincoln as a textile scientist.
Upon arrival, Tandon met the other Indian migrants who showed him around and helped him get settled. While juggling his new job and a growing family, he realized the need for a support system for migrants and formed a “social sharing group” to meet up on weekends for picnics and other family activities. It was his first contact with the organization of a community activity. Since then, despite being a full-time textile scientist with a busy schedule, his passion for culture and community service has only grown.
In 1998 he helped form the Indian Social and Cultural Club (ISCCNZ), which is now a major Indian association in Christchurch. Surinder served ISCCNZ as Secretary for three consecutive years. He was later appointed to represent ISCCNZ on the Multicultural (née Ethnic) Council of Christchurch to promote Indian culture to the wider community.
In 2000, Tandon was elected Vice President of the Christchurch Multicultural Council (CMC) which he served for 9 years before being elected President, a role he still holds.
CMC is a voluntary organization with over sixty members representing different ethnic communities and service groups, working passionately for culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities and fostering social cohesion.
Tandon was also a founding member of the NZ Sikh Society (South Island), a founding trustee of the Canterbury Indian Community Center Trust and a member of the executive committee of the Christchurch Interfaith Council since its inception in 2008.
In 2014, he was awarded the insignia of Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for his service to the community and to the field of textile science. The award recognizes a lifetime of service to others by a man whose personal motto is “Service Above Self”.
Tandon has also been active in the Lincoln Rotary Club and has been instrumental in establishing CultureFest for Canterbury residents where various ethnic groups can showcase their music, dance and food.
In 2021, Tandon became the founding chairman of Bhartiya Samaj Canterbury, established with the help of Bhartiya Samaj Charitable Trust. He is also president of the Hindu Council of New Zealand chapter in Canterbury.
Tandon also represents the ethnic community on the Advisory Board of Immigration NZ as well as the Department of Ethnic Communities.
Since becoming a White Ribbon Ambassador in 2017, he has been actively involved in the campaign to prevent violence against women.
Tandon’s wife, Archna Tandon JP, is a corrections officer and national chair of the Multicultural Women’s Council. Their daughter Ruchika works as a clinical pharmacist at Starship Hospital in Aucklnd and her son Sachin studies at the University of Canterbury and is an aspiring cricketer.
Summarizing his life in New Zealand, Tandon says: “I have enjoyed these three decades of professional, social and cultural happiness. I am grateful that my community service has been recognized with honors such as the Queen’s Birthday Honor and the Paul Harris Fellow of Rotary International, in addition to a number of other awards.
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