How did Duwara Consciousness Foundation get started?
Harisimran: When I first met Davinder, he was already talking about Duwara Consciousness. It was a concept he’d been thinking of for about a year. We got married about a year after we met. We started formalizing plans for Duwara Consciousness. Davinder came from London to San Diego, and there was a stark contrast – the gravity of the homelessness situation in the San Diego area struck him. He saw people losing their roots, their family and community connections, their sense of life and purpose.
Davinder: I used to go to churches, nonprofits, synagogues, lots of organizations. Everyone had their own niche – whether it was medical treatment, food, addiction support, etc. They were on one track and offered one service. I wanted to start an organization with a step by step process – go from feeding, to hygiene, to housing. I didn’t know of anyone else doing integrated approaches like this.
The challenges faced by the homeless population go beyond food, and encompass a complex web that includes food, but also sanitation, housing, addiction and finding meaning and purpose in life.
Can you describe the work of Duwara Consciousness Foundation, for those who haven’t heard of it before?
We provide accessible and nutritious vegetarian food (no eggs, fish or flesh) to those in need. This is currently in operation via our mobile Food Trailer. We also offer mobile hygiene services through our Shower Trailer which offers seven shower stalls and two washer-dryer units. As many of our homeless neighbors are transient, the mobility of our food and shower trailers enable us to serve them wherever they reside. Our ultimate goal is to provide individuals and families a conduit to permanent housing through our Land Project.
Davinder: We see the food and the shower trailer as the stepping stones to the housing step (through the 20+ acres of land we purchased in San Diego county). Ultimately we want to go beyond food and hygiene services – housing is the ultimate goal. Currently through our food trailer, we are building awareness in the community, and relationships and trust with our donors, volunteers and most importantly with the people we serve. We believe the concept we are creating can be applied not only across the country, but across the world.
Harisimran: In our work we come across a lot of organizations providing temporary housing. In these facilities, time tends to be unscheduled and without purpose. An overall sense of gloom tends to pervade. Through the Duwara Consciousness Land Project, we envision a structure, a purpose to the day, with people cooking, serving and cleaning for other people. We envision the community doing yoga in the morning. Our goal will be to have zero employees on the land, but rather to have a structure where all community members will be doing seva and giving back to each other and living in community. Dharmic teachings have informed my ideas – we want to create a scalable structure for the homeless to ultimately rehabilitate themselves back into society.
Can you offer advice and inspiration to those who might like to start a similar project, but feel overwhelmed?
Davinder: A lot of people who start seva projects are very idealistic. Me and Harisimran have business backgrounds – I think that aspect is important.
“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa
We draw so much inspiration from Mother Teresa’s example. The amount of people who are suffering can become overwhelming. If you can’t help 100 people, just help one. Simplify as much as you can. Just start and do it. It is the same advice I would give to someone starting a business – don’t talk to too many people, they’ll muddy the waters. Focus on helping one person, from there you can expand.
There are lots of naysayers in the world – I got negative feedback when I began developing the concept for Duwara Consciousness, and because of that, I knew I was on the right path! People were skeptical because it had never been done before. Personally, I don’t like going by models. It takes a lot of courage to break the mold.
Harisimran: You have to draw on the strength of your convictions – for each project we started so far, we haven’t had the money to start when we first started them. Neither one of us comes from a lot of cash. We started from the perspective of: “Ok, this needs to be done, and we don’t have the funds yet, but if we’re passionate enough and we’re true enough in our convictions, then others will see it as well and want to put resources toward our cause.” We’re devoted every day, every week. Lots of people don’t have time but are happy to put money toward the cause. I believe that if you’re strong enough in what you want to accomplish, others will see that, and God will pave the way.
Can you share some tips with our global audience on how to ensure their seva projects are successful?
Davinder: As a nonprofit organization, you are always limited in money, but don’t cut corners on the quality of what you are serving! You should always walk your project back and hold off on launching for X number of months rather than launching right away, if it is a matter of compromising on the quality of what you are offering.
For example, from our research we learned that mobile trailers can look correct and beautiful from the outside when you purchase them, but then fall apart a year later, rusting and crumbling . . . Patience is a virtue. Don’t cut corners. Ask yourself if you are willing to compromise the pride you put into your product or service. If you aren’t willing to compromise, you are on the right path.
In the planning for our shower trailer design, we insisted on maintaining the same quality in the facilities as the showers we ourselves would want to use! We opted not to create adjoining changing areas, but rather to create fewer spacious, private, high quality shower stalls. We do not put the people we serve on a different level from us – we believe that everyone is equal and we stand by that.
Harisimran: This is similar to our approach to food. Ask yourself if you would eat the food you are thinking about serving to others. If the answer is no, think about that. People ask us – do you take donated food? As it’s not per health code, difficult to incorporate into a meal, and would often require sending a volunteer to get it, we don’t do it this way. We buy our food from the same suppliers as restaurants. We get a big discount on our ingredients and feed people at a little over $1 per meal. We take pride in the food we serve, and are serving the best of the best in terms of ingredients and quality. It’s such a joy to be able to take that pride in the product we give out. We won’t compromise our quality, or other important areas of our program
Do you encounter any challenges in running Duwara Consciousness? How do you overcome them?
Davinder: Yes. We come across a ‘not in my backyard’ mindset sometimes. We work hard to cultivate trust from our donors, volunteers, and most importantly the guests we serve. Also, our guests tend to be meat eaters – we had to figure out how to build burritos that have a meaty feeling and crunch but are still plant based, and how to make this appealing to avid meat eaters. The food has to work for people we are serving who love McDonald’s. We had to be creative in building burritos for them. Harisimran’s cooking skills helped us overcome that challenge. Finally, financially – some organizations will offer you money to do what they want you to do, even if it isn’t aligned with your personal principles. Trust that the money will come if what you are doing is for the greater good. You might have to sacrifice some large chunks of change along the way, but it is worth it to stick to your principles.
Harisimran: One thing I have learned is that the business skillset flows very strongly into the nonprofit model. Who are your clients? How do you design things specifically for those clients? Who do you partner with? Be very careful with each step you take, and selective about who you partner with. It is important that your visions be aligned in some way.
Do you draw inspiration from Sikh Dharma when doing Seva?
Davinder: Sikhi gave me the inspiration through and through. I was clean shaven and had short hair five years ago. Five years before that I wanted to live a Sikhi lifestyle and grow a beard. When I moved to the U.S. I decided to become a Sikh in its purest form, or as pure as I could be in that sense. I decided, “I’m going to go all out.” If I’m going to wear my Dastar, I have to represent that through and through, and give my life to service. I see Sikhi as my life, but humanity as my religion. That’s how I believe our ten Gurus and the Siri Guru Granth Sahib Ji see the world.
Harisimran: I am inspired by the value of equality as manifested in Sikhism. It helps keep us focused on our mission of helping those who need it most.
I think of the humility, and the amazing examples of sacrifice in Sikh history. Guru Ram Das would clean people’s feet with his beard. There is no “Oh, I’m too good for that” mentality in Sikhi. The Gurus are the ones that we bow to, and they bow to the ones on the streets. This is the example of the Gurus.
Do you have any last words to share?
Harisimran: For those who are interested in starting a seva project like ours, my advice is, don’t wait until you think you have the money or the time. We all go through lots of thought processes. We want to wait to start a project to help others until we have a house, or have our kids. Then once we have our kids, we think, well let’s wait until we send the kids to college. Younger people might think “I’m 30 . . . I’ll do it when I’m older.”
We decided to start anyway, even though we didn’t have the money, our lives weren’t all set, and we had to make the time. Don’t let your youth go by! When you’re young is when you have the energy to do a project like this – at 65, now maybe you have the money but not the energy. Just seize the day and do it!
It is understandable to have thoughts like, “How will I support myself if I do something like this?” Just surrender and give it to the Guru. Give those problems to Guru. Tell the Guru that you are in His family, and you want to live the way the Guru lived, to be a true child of the Guru and manifest the Guru’s vision in today’s world in its purest form. The Guru will come through.
Don’t live your life through the lens of worry and self-concern. The world needs you. People get frustrated by the news. Don’t get caught up in the worry of what’s going wrong in the whole world. Just focus on your day, and helping those around you, and you won’t feel frustrated anymore.
Davinder: we need a ton of money! Our ultimate goal is to manifest this land and housing project, and provide shelter to people currently living on the streets in a comfortable and homey way. If we can do that, food and hygiene will come as a given. But to get land in San Diego costs billions. We need millions of dollars to make this happen. We don’t take a single cent of the money that is donated. We need this money, and you all can do it! People are scared to ask for money in this day and age, but we aren’t afraid to ask for money, and are especially in need of monthly donations. We are 100% volunteer and donation based, and every dollar we receive goes to those in need. It feels bloody good saying it!
It costs Duwara Consciousness Foundation between $1.30 – $1.50 per burrito, at 400 burritos a day. All donations needed!
Click Here to Donate: https://www.duwara.org/donate/
Video: Duwara Consciousness Vision and Inspiration
Harisimran Kaur and Davinder Singh
Harisimran hails from Los Angeles, and is an MBA and business executive in the fields of finance and accounting, primarily focused on fast growing start-up ventures with up to 1,000 employees. Davinder was born and raised in the U.K., and has always been drawn to the challenge of entrepreneurship and building businesses.
Once Davinder moved to Southern California, he was struck by how many people from all social strata seemed to be suffering from ailments like depression, stress, anxiety and substance abuse. He decided to give up all his businesses and concentrate on his passion for seva (selfless service). Finding no existing organization in line with the scope of his vision, Duwara Consciousness was born.
Davinder and Harisimran met for the first time in spring 2017 and immediately discovered their connection in a shared mission. Together they drive the Duwara Consciousness mission to serve others and solve problems.
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