By Nazeef Mollah:
On March 11, 2016, an estimated 20,000 weddings took place in the national capital. A whole lot of people ate hearty meals that night. But at the risk of repeating yet another obvious fact, a whole lot of food must have gone to waste as well. This, in a city that lost 1,027 people due to starvation between 1999 and 2011 (without accounting for the ones that possibly went unreported). The intention is not to reproach people for their desire to start a new phase of their life with pomp or to upbraid wedding planners who surely put in every effort to minimise wastage.
But the contrast, once you realise it, is hard to ignore, though many of us manage to do so. Twenty-something Neel Ghose is one individual who couldn’t. This SRCC and LSE alumnus has lived and worked in several cities. One of them was Lisbon where he was involved with an organisation called Refood which, as the name suggests, “re-takes food surpluses and feeds those in need.” It was an idea that, as an Indian, he felt his own country desperately needed and this inspired him to start the Robin Hood Army (RHA), which works with a simple philosophy – why let plentiful, nutritious food go to waste when there are people who could use some? Besides, our old friends – the wedding planners, the restaurateurs, and caterers – don’t want to throw food away either. A symbiotic relation was bound to happen. Someone had to take the initiative. And someone did.
RHA emphasize that they are a decentralised organisation, which is why they refer to themselves as a ’cause’ on Facebook. Neel might have started it in Delhi, but there are plenty of people in other cities – Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai and even Lahore and Karachi – who were willing, no, waiting to join the movement. These are young professionals like Neel, who by the way, is VP International Operations at a well-known ‘restaurant search and discovery’ platform.
Their message has spread to many campuses in India like the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, LSR and Jamia Millia in Delhi, St Xavier’s in Mumbai and DY Patil, Pune. In fact, Independence Day saw 141 colleges in India and Pakistan feed one lakh people in two days! The vigour of young blood ensures that the organisation runs just fine, without any centralised control because as RHA explains its mission and organisation in a simple manner: “…restaurants in [for example] Green Park, Delhi will contribute to the homeless of the locality via volunteers who live in Green Park.” To stay connected they use the power of social media, which they also use to spread the word.
There is another group of young men and women, which started a similar body in 2014, the same year that RHA came into being. Ankit Kawatra was a finance researcher. Now, he runs Feeding India (FI). His epiphany happened at a lavish wedding, where he realised there wasn’t a need to “buy food but use what is already available in abundance.”
FI initially grew through a 24*7 helpline, and they soon found allies in caterers, wedding planners, etc. They started out as a group of five and now have hundreds of volunteers in over 20 cities. Caterers can partner with them. Young chefs also support FI’s campaigns, and the organisation regularly has events to promote their work.
Managing one’s life with social work on the side can be tough. The reasons to stay motivated can often prove elusive. But altruism is not a psychological condition. It’s a choice, one that has unique rewards. An FI volunteer or ‘Hunger Hero’, as the organisation calls them, writes, “I cannot summarise the feeling that I get when I go to feed people, that feeling is out of the world.” For some, that is enough to be the change and keep going.
The goals of these teams are simple and quite similar – reduce wastage, reduce hunger – even though the structure of their organisations may vary. According to RHA’s Facebook page, they have served 511,143 people (as of April 19, 2016). But the truth is, even an impressive six-digit number such as this is a small contribution towards eradicating hunger, and they do not shy away from acknowledging it. However, the real achievement of groups like Robin Hood Army and Feeding India, is not the number of people they have served (although that is an essential part of it). Their primary accomplishment, for lack of a better word, is raising awareness among the youth of this nation, people like you and me. They have made concern fashionable! And for that, they deserve a tip of the giant hat on the head of our collective conscience.