In Sikh teachings, the concept of Dasvand refers to the act of donating 10 per cent of one’s harvest.
And for Boota Singh, it’s the way he runs his business.
As the owner and manager of Terrace Appliances & Mattresses, he puts aside 10 per cent of his profit to help those in need by providing annual medical “camps” in Bir Pind, India.
“We set up the camp in my village, we advertise on TV, make newspaper announcements and we bring villages from around with close to 800 people that come,” says Singh. “We bring the hospital team to check people’s eyes all day… people who have a problem, they are put onto a bus to the hospital and at night time, they have surgery.”
Every year, he travels to his home village to help run a program that gives free eye and cancer checks, funding anyone who needs treatment and surgery. Those fighting blindness are given a free cornea transplant and if someone is diagnosed with stage one cancer, they are given the necessary medical attention to help fight it.
On the posters for the camps is a picture of his late father, who passed away from cancer. Singh says they were unable to diagnose him before his cancer spread, along with his grandfather who also died from it, so he’s taken it as a personal obligation to help ease that burden from other families.
He says there is a lot of poverty in his home country and many people suffer or die as they can’t afford to see a doctor. Simple check-ups can be expensive and inaccessible but by offering it for free, he hopes to improve their quality of life. Together with four other friends across the globe who also emigrated from his village in India, they have taken on the medical fees, plus pay for accommodation and food as people wait to be examined.
Converting to the Indian rupee, he says the Canadian dollar has high value so medical costs are fairly cheap in India compared to Western costs. For example, a cornea transplant given at a discount to them costs approximately 5,000 rupees, which is just under $100 for Canadians.
“I met people who were emotional [after their surgery]… one boy got a cornea transplant and now he can see the world. I asked him how he feels and he said he doesn’t want to go to sleep but wants to see everything he’s never seen before,” Singh says.
Singh immigrated directly to Terrace in 1998 and eventually ran the local Sears franchise with his family. When they closed their doors, he found he enjoyed selling appliances so he decided to buy the building and start his own business. Over the years, he made it part of his regular work to give back locally whenever he could locally, including donating fridges and washing machines to low-income households, giving mattresses to shelters and school dorms, and raising money for anyone who needed financial aid.
In 2015, he heard that somebody from the Vancouver area had started a few eye camps in India and he loved the idea of being able to give back to his home country. He contacted them and asked how he could help, and agreed to take on the program in his own village.
“I get a lot of blessings from those people, I can’t describe the feeling. God has given us everything here [in Canada], we have everything… we have family, a home, wellness so I told God that I would go help these people,” Singh says. “God gave us the power to help other people.”
It was difficult for him to leave his life behind in India 30 years ago. He came from a middle-class family of farmers and says they had enough food to eat but when the opportunity to move to Canada came up, they took the chance at a better life. Since then, he’s been calling Terrace home and sees how successful of a life he’s been able to lead because of it.
He says his family encountered racism at first and struggled with the concept of working for someone, as they always made money on their own in India. When Singh was finally able to run his own business, he was eager to make the best out of it.
“We work hard, I wake up early every morning and go to sleep late… before we were scared about [racism] but now it’s okay.
“I have good customers, it makes me happy when people say they like to shop here,” Singh says. “And we have more than enough money now, I’m happy and not greedy… Be honest, keep your heart clean and respect everything, that’s what I learned from my parents.”
Alongside the medical camps he sponsors, he encourages people to let him know if someone needs extra medical attention. He takes it upon himself to ensure sure nobody in his village is left behind, as there are a lot of seniors struggling on their own, and there are accidents to individuals unable to pay for recovery that leave families in devastation.
Singh says he will do everything he can to raise money for them through his community network and he does his own store deliveries after work to make extra money to put towards these emergency funds. He also started sponsoring students to stay in school in India, which he says only costs approximately $500 per year.
“I tell people not to give money to the temple, give it to needy people. We can’t solve 100 per cent of the problem, but we can try,” Singh says. “I told my people in my village that nobody is to sleep with problems… I make sure that nobody has sad things happen [to them].”
He says although he can afford it, he won’t stay at hotels or indulge in wealth whenever visiting India. He prefers to humbly sleep in his own childhood home and be amongst his people as it reminds him of where he originally came from.
Singh travels by himself whenever he attends the camps but recently his son has expressed interest in joining. He says his son wants to become an eye doctor and sign up to be an organ donor.
He emphasizes his business is more than just making money, he sees it as his platform to do good. Every morning, he says a prayer when he comes in to give gratitude for everything he’s been able to do and to help others do the same.
“If God gives you that opportunity [to do good] then you can do it,” says Singh. “Nobody can take their money into the afterlife.”