‘Rani sat cross legged, her little back curved and her head of untidy locks bent over a piece of roti and a depressingly transparent yellow liquid that passed for ‘dal makhani’. Her big brown eyes hesitantly looked up through her thick lashes for a split second when asked about her time in the orphanage. She looked back down at her frail, tiny fingers that curled up with insecurity at her equally scabby feet. The feeble girl to her side told us Rani’s story of the abusive drunk father and a submissive mother who placed her in the Tuljai Balgrah for her own good.’
At the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, School of Rural Development, Tuljapur, we realized an abundant land area of India is quintessentially rural and here inhabits its majority population where generations are growing without developing. Immense potential of this forgotten land is complacently unacknowledged by the urban counterparts, amassing opportunities unheard of by the rural folk. At this juncture, it was impossible to turn a blind eye towards the innocent, barefooted rural young who look up with curious wonder-filled eyes as an airplane whizzes by, dreaming of ends but devoid of the means to achieve them. Here in this lacuna, ‘Skip A Meal‘ has stepped in with humble feet to initiate the action gravely required to transform the offsprin of rural lands, equipping them with the nutrition and language to enable them to fly their dream kites in this aggressively progressing world.
To materialize this endeavor, we formed a Skip A Meal team of like minded students from the BASS batch and decided to skip one meal a week and contribute it to ones in dire need. After conducting a survey to narrow down the homes that we should target, we zeroed in on two centers engaged in affirmative action for less privileged children, Tuljabhavani School and Tuljai Balgrah, with a total strength of around 150 children studying in Classes from Nursery to Tenth. These children either belong to socially or economically dysfunctional families or belong to none at all, and were provided subsistence education and nutrition, if there exists such a thing at all. As we befriended these children, we understood that it was not just their stomachs that we needed to fill but their hearts and minds as well. Our Saturday visits with the nutritious food that we skipped were much awaited and an arena for the children to vent out their feelings, frustrations and escape into a world of fun, creativity and a sense of belonging. These children looked up at us and valued our opinions; we decided to use it to our advantage to motivate them and provide them with an additional knowledge base imparted through innovative and engaging ways. These children move out of the system devoid of the skills required to face the obstacles of the outside world and we were determined that we would make them prepared by providing them a better mentor-child ratio. This lead to our Education and Activities committees apart from the Food committee which was already functioning by distributing food on Saturdays. While the majority of the students skip their food, the Skip A Meal volunteers who are part of the Food Committee are responsible for transporting and distributing the food. The Education and Activities volunteers are accountable for syllabus development, teaching, coming up with activities that are fun but informative at the same time and conducting these activities. Along with this, we have also commenced a counseling unit because many of these children have emotional wounds and the orphanage does not provide the ambiance or the facilities for healing these wounds. The older children are also proffered career counseling to make them aware of the array of employment choices that are out there and how to attain them.
The children from the two centres were brought to our college for a visit on 31st August, 2013. And by using the facilities of our Institute, the children were briefed on certain issues like Gender Equality, Importance of Education and relating it to their academics or personal lives in greater detail. They were given a tour of the campus, especially the library and the computer center with the view of kindling in them a desire to study more. This created in them a fire to achieve more and dream beyond the four walls that they were accustomed to.
We were aware of our limitations in outreach but it did not stop us from giving back to the society in whatever humble ways we could. The initiatives in the urban sector have the advantage of easy access to media coverage and funds to expand so as to multiply the impacts of their initiative. So, we also plan to encourage residential colleges and other similar organizations to take up ownership of orphanages in their respective areas and to implement the concept of Skip A Meal. Hence, empowering children living in orphanages and street shelters to discover their true strengths and unleash their full potential.
Today, Rani is our Skip A Meal ambassador. Her twinkling eyes and vibrant aura inspires each volunteer and reminds us the effect a simple meal could generate. The ripple effect of that one idea has enabled us to understand the hidden potential behind the millions of outstretched hands that we ignore on the streets, the subdued imagination and dreams of the unheard voices in the many orphanages and homes. One meal can wipe a tear away, one meal can make true a hundred dreams, one meal can unlock a thousand shackles that ties India down from its deserved glory.
Rani, from the article.