By Bea Gooding

A middle-aged Middle Eastern man with receding black hair, black mustache and wearing a black suit jacket with a white ribbon lapel pin stands in front of a breeze block wall with a tree growing over the top

Lincoln resident Dr Surinder Tandon is a textile engineer with a passion for weaving together communities of all cultures and backgrounds.

Originally from New Delhi, Surinder and his wife Archna moved to New Zealand in 1988. He’d just completed his PhD in textile engineering and landed a job at the Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand (WRONZ) in Lincoln.

“They were doing a lot of interesting work in textile engineering and fabric product development,” he says.

Combined with his love for cricket, he thought it offered was the perfect opportunity to mix career and sport.

“But of course, New Zealand is far away from India. It was quite new, but it was exciting and challenging.”

He credits his work colleagues for helping him settle in to New Zealand and connecting him with other Indian families in the area. They showed him around, and he was able to socialise with others in the wider community.

While juggling his career and the arrival of his two children, Surinder got together with new migrants from India and formed a “potluck social group” to meet up during the weekends for picnics and other family activities.

In 1998, they then formed the Indian Social and Cultural Club (ISCCNZ), which is now the major Indian association in Christchurch.

A member of the Lincoln Rotary Club, he plays an important role in bringing the club’s CultureFest to life for Canterbury residents.

It’s a festival where various ethnic groups can showcase their music, dance and food, he says. “Its culture galore!”

Since CultureFest made its debut in Rolleston in 2004 more and more cultural groups have been participating and the event has grown into the highly anticipated annual Council and Christchurch Multicultural Council run event in Lincoln.

It’s also an event that aims to promote and encourage social inclusion and equality, and Surinder believes it has become an important vehicle for helping to prevent cultural and ethnic divisions.

It’s long way from the early “potluck social group” he formed with other Indian migrants in the early 1990s.

Surinder’s passion for culture and community grew, and he went on to represent the Indian community on the Christchurch Multicultural Council, and has been its president for the last ten years.

“I grew a lot of passion for serving ethnic communities,” he says. “Not just Indian communities, but all communities, including migrants and refugees.”

Christchurch has over 180 ethnicities, he says, and has become very diverse.

“I realised that the needs of all migrants are the same for settlement, such as culture, language barriers, employment challenges and homesickness, of course.”