This JGLS Graduate is Providing Sleeping Bags to the Homeless in Delhi. Read Shiven Varma’s Inspiring Story

Project Sleep Well aims to provide maximum homeless persons with sleeping bags to help them survive the adverse weather conditions in Delhi.

We interviewed Shiven Varma, a JGLS graduate and the founder of this project.

1. How and why did you start the project?

I finished law school in August 2015 and in my quest for self improvement, I became part of a program called the Self Expression and Leadership Program at Landmark Worldwide, a global training and development organisation.

During the course of this program I was to work on a community project without using any resources of my own.

This was the setting stone for Project Sleep Well. I always felt for the cause of those who were poverty stricken and had no agency, but never got down to taking any action for their betterment.

This program provided me the opportunity to try something that would make a positive impact on the homeless people of New Delhi.

At the time, the winter had just approached Delhi and being someone who feels really chilly in the winter, I realised how there are so many people out there who are dying of the cold let alone having access to a good night’s sleep. I realised the drawbacks of distributing blankets to such people, and instead thought of distributing sleeping bags instead.

This is how I cofounded “Project Sleep Well”, the project’s initial aim was to provide at least a 1000 homeless persons in Delhi with sleeping bags.

Additionally, I wanted to inculcate leadership qualities amongst my friends from law school and high school to make the project a success.

We chose to distribute sleeping bags over the usual blankets for the following reasons:

1. Blankets are heavy and cumbersome to carry around. A homeless person does not have a cupboard or a loft where he/she can store the blanket.

2. Even if a person has a blanket, it fails to insulate him from underneath (homeless persons usually sleep on hard, rough surfaces)

3. Winds manage to seep through the gaps in the blanket.

4. On a cold Delhi winter night one needs at least 2-3 blankets to keep warm.

5. The blankets become wet and cold when the dew settles in during winter- completely defeating the purpose of the blanket.

We felt that one sleeping bag that costs almost the same price as a good blanket was a much better solution to providing immediate relief to the homeless from the cold winter nights.

project sleepwell

2. How long it’s been? How may people have you impacted? What’s the experience been like?

We started the project in December 2015. At first I was really scared, doubtful and skeptical. Will I be able to do it? Is it even possible? Will people support me? How will I do it? Will I be able to convince my friends to do so much work? Are sleeping bags even a good idea?

These were just some of the questions giving me sleepless nights. As I set out on my quest,having a perfunctory knowledge about the lives and conditions of the homeless, I contacted many NGOs and organisations for support, aid and advice.After getting little or no response from many organisations, including the Government of Delhi, I met one of the most inspiring and active on- ground social activists, Mr. Sunil Kumar Aledia from the Centre for Holistic Development (CHD).

CHD is an NGO working for the rights and privileges of the homeless citizens in Delhi and India.

This is when the real journey of Project Sleep Well began. Sunil, who is now a guide, mentor and friend and our team had various discussions and deliberations about the concept of Project Sleep Well.

After number of meetings, site visits, nights on the streets of Delhi and interviews, we decided to carry out a pilot project which aimed at distributing 100 sleeping bags to get a sense of how it will be received by the homeless people.

The response and feedback that we got was highly positive and overwhelming. We took great efforts in identifying the people in real need for the sleeping bags.We were happy to see the people using the sleeping bags even on subsequent visits after the donation was made.

We then realised that Project Sleep Well can be a success and has a huge potential after successfully completing our pilot project by February 2016.

Presently, we have expanded the aim of the project to include a long term plan where we intend to run a model shelter home for the homeless persons. In this model shelter home, we will be providing avenues for skill development and training to the residents of the shelter home.

These trained residents will then be employed by us to manufacture our own sleeping bags, which will be distributed back to the homeless community on the streets of Delhi.We are currently working on this long-term holistic model and have achieved great strides in this plan.

This winter, we have an action plan to distribute 500 sleeping bags covering all revenue districts of Delhi and also the satellite cities of NCR including Gurugram, Noida, Faridabad and Ghaziabad. All previous and future funds of Project Sleep Well are being raised through donations and crowd funding.

In addition to the sleeping bags, we are also distributing 5000 blankets to whoever we are unable to provide a sleeping bag to. We are doing at least 50 donation drives across the months of December and January, tirelessly wandering the streets of NCR from 10 PM to 4-5 AM, looking for the right recipients of our sleeping bags.

Frankly I haven’t gotten time to sit back, think and introspect about the experience. The journey so far has just been so engaging, exciting and adventurous and one where I am learning something everyday.

I can easily say that I am not the same person before I started this project simply because I have seen the true reality of the conditions, hardship and the never dying spirit of the homeless people which has provided me great perspective.

Not only did I realise how fortunate and privileged I am but also how much has to be done for those who are not as fortunate as us.

The fact that there is so much to do out there in the world is what is what drives me everydayto make whatever little difference that my team and I can make

3. Who’s in your team? What all do you do and how do you ‘manage’ all the work?

Project Sleep Well is a project under Centre for Holistic Development(CHD).We have a team of 4 from CHD and a group of 15 lawyers from Jindal Global Law School and 5 friends from D.P.S R.K Puram. We have made teams and divided the work amongst ourselves.

The team from CHD has more than a decade’s experience in this field and guides us on the on the front end and on field action whereas the rest of us handle different aspects like social media, donations, procurement, proposals, logistics etc.

The key to managing all the work (which has not been easy due to our personal jobs apart from this initiative) has been setting targets, being organised and the sheer commitment to the cause. In my opinion, if one doesn’t feel for the cause and if making a difference and being selfless doesn’t drive you then one can never sustain this kind of an initiative.

project sleepwell

4. What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced till now? How have you overcome and plan to overcome them?

The biggest challenge so far has been fund raising. Though we have managed just fine with the funds we raised so far, the fact is that all those funds have been from our close circle i.e our friends, family, colleagues and relatives.

We are trying to spread our outreach and coverage by getting the word out about the Project so that more and more people see what we are doing and realise that it is a cause they could support and be a part of.

We are sending proposals to different organisations, portals, blogs and companies to support and spread our initiative. There is a lot more we can do in this area and are looking forward to a successful phase of our project.

Another challenge we face is getting people in our team, including myself sometimes, to do our tasks on time. Since we all are doing this in addition to our jobs or higher studies, time management and planning execution is key for poistive results.

Having said that its a great opportunity for all of us young aspiring professionals to train and develop our selves in various life and personal skills.

5. What’s something which we don’t know about homelessness that you’d like to tell us?

What people don’t know about the homeless is that in Delhi itself there are more than 1 percent of the total population in Delhi is homeless i.e more than a lakh homeless persons reside on our streets.

This is not including those people who live in slums or make shift tents .Another problem is the great deal of stereotyping of homeless persons.

We often hear people say “Oh! They are all cheats, thieves, drugs addicts” amongst other worse things. It is true that such people too exist within the community, but I feel that it is counter-productive to colour them all with the same brush.

It is important to understand that homelessness is the result of the intersectionality of class, gender, caste, economic status and not a condition that is ‘chosen’.

We fail to realise that it is actually the homeless persons that are our city makers.They are the lifeline of our city and without them our cities will be at a stand still.

They are the people who carry us home on rickshaws, clean our city, serve us at parties/weddings, carry cargo for traders and various jobs we take for granted being the privileged class not realising our lives are the way they are because of their contribution and hard work.

project sleepwell

Project Sleep Well:

Every year we read about how the number of homeless people living on the streets of Delhi is steadily on the rise, but surprisingly enough, there is no concrete data on the number of homeless people on the streets of Delhi. The figures vary from 25,000 to 1,50,000 persons.

Every year, we read about a large number of homeless people dying due to the extreme weather conditions in the city. According to the Zonal Integrated Police Network, established under the Union Ministry, 33,518 homeless people have died between January 2004 and October 2015.

As concerned citizens and more importantly, as social engineers, my fellow associates and I have started an initiative called ‘Project Sleep Well’ to try and do our best to help the cause of the homeless citizens in our city.

Project Sleep Well aims to provide maximum homeless persons with sleeping bags to help them survive the adverse weather conditions in Delhi.

Project Sleep Well was launched in the winter of 2015 with an aim to fundraise and donate sleeping bags to the homeless, and the scope of the project has only expanded since then. The collection of funds takes place through crowd funding and voluntary donations.

We now work extensively with the Centre for Holistic Development (CHD), a NGO, to help such persons by providing them sleeping bags, blankets, clothes, food, healthcare or space in a shelter home as per their requirement and need.

Looking ahead, the Project’s ultimate aim is to use the collected funds to provide skill development and generate employment amongst the homeless by training them in apparel sewing and employing them to manufacture their own sleeping bags.

What this will result in is that, with the support of the jobless/homeless persons, sleeping bags will be made by the homeless, distributed to the homeless and in turn empower, enable and uplift the homeless people of Delhi.

The Project also raises awareness about the multitude of problems faced by homeless persons and is committed to play a proactive role in changing the conditions that they live in.

We want to provide immediate relief to the most disadvantaged section of society so that they don’t have to sleep on the pavements in harsh weather conditions and also develop a long-term holistic solution to the wider issue and as a result further generate a sense of belonging and community, that comes from feeling valued and included by society.

Each sleeping bag will cost approximately Rs.500

Donate Rs.500: 1 homeless person impacted

Donate Rs.1000: 2 homeless people impacted

Donate Rs.1500: 3 homeless people impacted.

However, People are free to donate any amount that you may deem fit. Every rupee will count!

Donate Here

For Credit/Debit Card, Click Here.

For Cheque/Cash/NEFT-

  • Bank Name- Federal Bank
  • Account Name-Centre for Holistic Development
  • Branch Name-Federal Bank HauzKhas, New Delhi
  • A/c number-19800100005448
  • IFSC Code-FDRL0001980
  • Contact: [email protected]

You can check out the Facebook pages of CHD and Project Sleep Well here.

You can also visit and donate through our website here.

Media reports: See the DNA report here.

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