Be the Cause

the first time volunteering at seva café

I had the privilege of being part of the Seva Café in 2007 as a guest. Sadly it was just the one time and that was the last day of Seva Café’s run at the Royal Cup Café. I was disappointed to have discovered that I missed out on months of serving, interacting, being a part of and witnessing incredible & genuine moments. Is this what had been happening here all along? How could I have not known the depth and intensity of what goes on here? Not too mention the fun.

This past Sunday morning I awoke with great anticipation. On my drive to Zephyr’s, thoughts of what volunteer role I would be assigned in our collective ran through my head. I told myself that it didn’t matter and I was happy with however I could contribute. When I got there, we decided to have the volunteer orientation a bit later so we could allow time for all of the volunteers to arrive. In the meanwhile, we started preparing. Still I couldn’t let go of the mystery I had built up inside my head, when will we know what we are doing for the night? When do we find out? (I had missed the email sent out earlier with the volunteer assignments).

All of a sudden it didn’t matter because somehow we all naturally fell into a flow in preparing the food; washing, cutting, chopping, finding, moving, storing. It was so organic. I was amazed at how people who hadn’t met before that night and had never been to the restaurant or Seva Café, so seamlessly moved together. Without any awareness of it, I let go of my previous thoughts.

In the kitchen I met another volunteer. We instantly bonded over travel stories, our passions, and tacky jewelry. We couldn’t stop talking. During the volunteer orientation we discovered that we would both be washing dishes that night. We shared with each other the therapeutic and almost meditative state washing dishes allows us to experience. We were told that another volunteer was on their way and that this person would also be standing alongside us washing dishes.

We went into the kitchen and started preparing. As the used plates, cups, and silverware were being brought into the kitchen by our fellow volunteers, a new person also showed up in the kitchen. We assumed he was the other volunteer who would also help to wash the dishes. So we shoved an apron in his hands and explained to him the flow we had adopted in washing the dishes. We engaged in conversation. He imparted some of his dishwashing secrets & tricks learned from his days of working at Little Cesar’s. Things ran smoothly for the rest of the night and we all had a good time together.

At the end of the night, we pushed a few tables together in the restaurant, and thanks to the dedicated BTC volunteers, had a festive meal awaiting us. As we all sat together sharing food, the volunteer who had showed up in the kitchen to wash the dishes sat in his chair drinking a glass of water. We offered to pass him along a plate of food, but he said it was okay, he wasn’t hungry. He then told us that he had heard about Seva Café earlier that day and decided to show up for a meal. Someone then asked him, so you weren’t here to volunteer? He said no. We all laughed. Then someone else asked, how did you end up in the kitchen and why didn’t you say something? He said, when things like that happen I just roll with it. We were all amused.

The next morning this guy was on my mind. I wondered if he knew the affect he had made on us that night. I knew for me, being aware and present in each moment is something I am constantly striving for, whether it is while I am doing the most mundane of activities or having a conversation with a person. Here was this guy who walked into a space not knowing anyone, looking forward to sitting down and nourishing himself, and somehow he got shuffled into the kitchen, washing dishes for 4 hours!  This guy was a testament to living in the moment. Although he had come to eat, he only had water when we had all gathered at the end of the night. I had to be honest with myself that morning, would I have done the same? Would I have volunteered when my intention was to be a guest? Would I have said something?

That night I saw the difference a group of strangers could make, I made new friends, I witnessed pure acts of selflessness, I saw the restaurant go from empty to at capacity, and I left energized & happy that I was somehow able to be a part of it all. There is no telling what will happen the next time I volunteer at Seva Café.



NVC-What is it?

A few weeks ago folks from Be the Cause, South Asian Network, SAHARA, and Center for the Pacific Asian Family collaborated on facilitating a discussion on alternative ways of communicating with one another based on compassion and understanding, also known as nonviolent communication.

We were given this opportunity to dialogue among those who already practice giving of themselves, in a space where spiritual growth and understanding are nurtured. We were blessed to have been received with warmth & open-mindedness.

The workshop consisted of three groups, children, youth, and adults. The children created beautiful, colorful paintings after a discussion about managing our feelings in a healthy way. The kids were able to talk about anger, a natural feeling that can lead to unhealthy ways of coping, and what they choose to do instead to express themselves in healthier ways. The youth group consisted mostly of boys, with one girl. Again, the topic of anger was discussed, and how we see portrayals of anger management in the media and sports. The adult workshop varied in that we talked a lot about parenting, particularly respecting children’s individual identities, as well as interacting with co-workers and spouses in ways where everyone’s needs get met.

Nonviolent communication takes into consideration that we all come from a place of wanting to be heard and understood. Towards these efforts, we try to understand one another’s feelings and needs. When we begin to change our thinking and realize that every single one of us sets out everyday to fulfill a basic human need, we also change the way we view one another, and can begin to relate to each other on another level.

For me, this philosophy has been transforming. It definitely has been a work in progress. To know that we can communicate with one another through compassion, without judgement, has been a freeing experience. To incorporate these ideas and practice them has been challenging. Unfortunately, we are not raised to relate to one other with patience, spending more time than necessary in speaking with another to truly understand. However, this framework allows us a chance to connect in ways that most of us haven’t yet.

To learn more about nonviolent communication check out Marshall Rosenberg’s website at

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