PROFESSOR KEITH MCLAY: Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Mayor of Derby, Honoured guests and Graduands, it gives me great pleasure to be presenting today Jaz Rai OBE for the award of Honorary Master of the University.
Jaz is an inspirational man who has used his own challenging life experiences to help change the lives of others. He was born and raised in Derby and is the founder of the Sikh Recovery Network, which provides support and assistance to people who are recovering from alcohol or substance addiction issues.
Jaz started drinking alcohol at the age of 17 and by the age of 26 was an alcoholic. He struggled to function without alcohol on a daily basis. In July 2008, Jaz was caught drink-driving for the third time and realized he had reached rock bottom. His last drink was on January 30th, 2009.
Life in recovery presented Jaz with some amazing opportunities. In 2011, he co-created the Khanda Poppy in honour of the 80,000 Sikhs who gave their lives in the world wars and has raised thousands of pounds for the Royal British Legion. He was also given the opportunity to present and host his own show on the Sikh Channel 'Alcohol and Beyond'. In 2016, he was invited to New York to address the UN's General Assembly regarding the global challenges of the world drug problem.
In 2016, Jaz started the Sikh Recovery Network at the Guru Arjan Dev Gurdwara (Sikh Temple) in Stanhope Street. The charity was established to support people from the Panjabi Sikh community who were not accessing mainstream services. It has been so successful that there are now groups in Derby, Leicester, Birmingham, Coventry, and London.
In 2020, Jaz was recognised as a 'Points of Light' winner by 10 Downing Street for his work supporting people with drug and alcohol addiction. In 2021, he was awarded an OBE for his services to the Sikh community during the Covid-19 pandemic. He is one of a handful of Sikhs in the world to hold this distinction.
Jaz fully understands the difficulties people face when speaking out about addiction, particularly within his community. His selfless courage and determination have encouraged countless others to seek help with their struggles.
Jaz is celebrating here today with his wife Dee, daughter Jaspreet, grandson Jax, sisters Bali and Amy, brother Peter, and Mother Surinder.
Chancellor, in recognition of his astounding work in the community around alcohol and substance addiction issues, we are delighted to award Jaz Rai OBE the honorary degree of Master of the University.
JAZ RAI OBE: Chancellor, Pro Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Mayor of Derby, Honoured guests, graduands of 2022, ladies and gentlemen. I want to thank my higher power, the god of my understanding, Waheguru, the wonderful creator for making moments like these possible for me today.
When I came into recovery in 2009, I never ever thought that I'd ever experience moments like this. All I ever wanted to do was just to regain my life and be a husband, and a father to my children, and a son to my mum.
I'm very delighted today that amongst the guests are all those people that have been with me on this journey in my addiction. Despite me suffering the pain and misery of addiction, I realized today that I put my family through a lot of that pain and misery and it's a great joy for me today that they can celebrate these moments with me as well. My gratitude extends not just to my family, but my gratitude extends to the people that have got me sober.
All my family ever wanted me to do was to stop drinking and get a hold of my life, but the people in the rooms of recovery such as AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and the recovery meetings that we hold up and down the country in the gurdwara's Sikh community, they've helped me stay sober on a daily basis. I cannot do this on my own, I can only do this with the support of the fellowships and brothers and sisters who are in recovery. Recovery for me today has become a journey, it's not a destination. I'll be 14 years clean from alcohol in January, January the 30th.
Recovery for me is a journey and not a destination and I'll be on this destination till I breathe my last breath. Some people say that's a very strong statement to make but it is a strong statement because it is reality. That is my reality today, I cannot have another drink if I want to experience moments like this. I'm very blessed to have a grandson and 14 years ago I would never have thought that I would have been able to witness these moments.
For me in my addiction I experienced a lot of lows and one of the things that brought me to my knees was the spiritual void that I had. Although connected to the Sikh faith and being very involved with the Sikh community, I was probably never so disconnected. I'm not ashamed today to say that when I was serving on the temple committee, that's a faith that doesn't tolerate any alcohol or any substance misuse, any mind or mood altering is prohibited in our faith, but as serving as a committee member I was caught drink driving. That brought me a lot of shame and brought a lot of shame to my family, but it also made me feel ostracised by my community. I was unable to go to the temple for nine months and as a consequence my drinking just spiralled out of control.
It was only till I realized that there was hope, there was help out there, and it's when I accessed my first meeting on March the 13th, Friday March the 13th, for many that's a very unlucky day, for me it's the day that I will never forget, and I'll always be etched in my memory.
It was a day when I went into a recovery meeting with people from my own background, Asian people, black people, and it made me for the first time in my life I felt I belonged somewhere because I could share my experience, strength and hopes without feeling judged. And today that is what we hope to deliver to people, not just in our community.
We chose the name Sikh Recovery Network because I believe it's a taboo and a big stigma in our community. People do not want to talk about this, we want to sweep it under the carpet, but we're fortunate and blessed that we've supported people from many communities, English people, white people, black people, and we're also working with the Muslim community in Leicester, a project called the Spinney Hill project. We're supporting them and learning from each other.
We've been very lucky, the Sikh Recovery Network, to work with the mainstream services such as Turning Point, Aquarius, CGLs and we're also doing a lot of work now with the NACOA, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics. And next month on December the 15th we'll be launching a survey that we did at the Houses of Parliament, in the House of Commons, we're launching now the findings of that report and people will be able to access that through the internet.
Like I said, I've spent over 20 years in addiction and have been in recovery now for 13, almost 14 years, and I have endured the pain and misery of addiction just like my family has as well. I feel I do have a degree already. A degree worth of knowledge in addiction, and it's quite easy for me to sit at home and just accept my recovery and limit it to my family and to myself. But AA, Alcoholics Anonymous, teaches us that we have to give back freely.
If I'm going to keep my recovery today I have to give it back just like many of you today, what you've learned through your two years or three years of studying and getting your degrees you will pass that knowledge on to other people and that is very empowering for me. When people say that they've been helped and been able to gain recovery because of the Sikh Recovery Network, that's very empowering, because it gives us a lot of courage and gives us a lot more hope to carry on with the work that we're doing.
Today I feel worthy because those moments in my life when I felt worthless, today I am worthy, just like you are worthy of your degrees. I felt useless but today I am useful to other people, I have a life that is purposeful, that I can look forward to supporting my daughter, my grandson, and my son who unfortunately can't make a day today because he's studying at York University.
For me, my achievements, I don't like to focus too much on the achievements that were read out, for me the greatest gift of recovery today is for being a son to my mum and being a husband to my wife. And for my sisters, having the brother, and my brother's here today as well, having the brother that they always wanted. I'm very grateful for this moment and once again, like many of the other achievements, this will also be something that I'll treasure and cherish for as long as I live.
Ladies and gentlemen, when I first went into the rooms of recovery there's one thing that gave me a lot of hope and that was the Serenity Prayer. Some of you might be familiar with the Serenity Prayer, but today it means a lot to me in those challenging moments that I face. I say I struggled a lot with my addiction, the pain and misery, but I've also been through a lot in the 13 years that I've been sober.
If I told some people, if I share some of the things that I've been through in the last 13, 14 years some people will be astounded thinking, 'How the hell did you not have a drink?' because that was what I used to do, the alcohol had become my crutch, but today, people in the rooms of recovery have become my crutch , my family has become my crutch, moments like these have become my crutch.
I want to end today with the Serenity Prayer, the prayer that gives me a lot of hope and a lot of courage in those difficult moments. I always recite this to myself, go into a quiet place and say a prayer and thank God, and accept the things I can't control. If some of you know the Serenity Prayer, I'm sure some of you will, please feel free to recite it with me.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Thank you and God bless you all.