In 2018, Shirol Taluka in Kolhapur, Maharashtra reigned the headlines for a considerable time, for a highly concerning reason – the cancer menace. Cancer spread like an epidemic with one or more patients in almost every family. While the government introduced schemes and strategies to combat the imminent hazard, the villagers in the neighbouring Hatkanangale Taluka were crippled with fear. They dreaded a similar scourge of cancer in their own homes.
While the adults turned to the supernatural beliefs for safety, the children of Hatkanangale took up the onus of probing the reason behind the cancer epidemic. Guided by fellows of non-profit foundation Insight Walk, these kids were already well-aware about how harmful chemicals in food can lead to cancer. Talking to their own parents, who were all predominantly farmers, they found out that modern farming resorts to a lot of toxic chemical pesticides and fertilisers, unlike traditional farming which was completely organic. Their grandparents corroborated their findings, as they shared how diseases occurred much less in their times, due to organic farming practices.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
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Children turned organic farmers after school hours
The children then decided to start organic farming on their own. Securing small vacant plots here and there, or perhaps a small corner of their family land, they tilled the land after school hours and sowed seeds. Using bio-manure made from their household waste, they nourished the tomato, aubergine or marigold plants until they bore healthy fruits and vibrant flowers. They even insisted their school cooks to use these vegetables in their mid-day meal.
“After their successful pilot, now in the summer holidays, they will roll out organic farming in an entire field and at the same time encourage other farmers to pick it up,” Sanket Jain, co-founder of Insight Walk, shared in a Facebook post. Each of the kids used their own acumen and passion for contributing to the project. While the aspiring painters drew comics and sketches demonstrating the procedure and results, the would-be writers jotted down the entire experience to help others learn about it in details.
About Insight Walk
However, it would be a misnomer to say that this organic farming project is one of the most successful ones conducted by Insight Walk. The organisation has been actively working in eight villages in Kolhapur trying to mentor the children, providing them with the best of life skills, extra-curricular activities and practical on-hand experience with textbook concepts.
“We work with children in the age group of 6 to 14 years. Most of them hail from lesser privileged families in villages which lack even the basic facilities. Early marriage, child labour, dropping out of school are common as age-old patriarchy reigns above everything,” shares Subodh Jain, co-founder of Insight Walk, in a conversation with Efforts For Good.
Insight Walk fellowship chooses leaders among marginalised women
Insight Walk works in a fascinating way which makes them stand out in the domain of community development. “Each year, we select Insight Walk Fellows from among the women in these village communities, each of whom plays a key role in the activities doled out for the rest of the year. However, unlike conventional practice, our selection procedure for the fellows does not have education, age or leadership quality as hardcore criteria,” shares Subodh.
Intriguingly, women of all ages comprise the batch of selected fellows for a particular year. Most of them are victims of patriarchal oppression, often domestic violence. Most have never had a chance to complete school, let alone aspire for financial independence. But, the thing all of them have in common is an indomitable grit.
“Each of our fellows has expertise and experience in something or the other, be it farming or pottery, teaching or stitching. So, we coordinate with each individually and design specific courses to train the children. Then they are assigned to lead the Community Centres in the villages, where the children are groomed after their school hours,” informs Subodh.
There was a time when life for the children was riddled with hardships. Girls would join school well-aware that they would never get to graduate. Their aspirations were cut short by societal and financial constraints, which compelled them to drop out early on trivial reasons.
“Sometimes, they would stop going as they outgrew their uniform or cannot afford a school bag. We could have easily helped them out with crisp new uniforms or shiny new bags. Instead, we decided to introduce them to stitching. Now, they can easily design their own dresses and stitch beautiful cloth bags. Since the blanket ban on plastic bags in Maharashtra, these kids are most enthusiastic about making cloth bags and spreading the idea among the village elders as well,” narrates Subodh.
“Once popular notion was that boys never do womanly work like stitching on knitting. We have successfully dispelled the stereotype and taught the boys who perceive the craft as just another life skill. Now you will find them excitedly mending tears on their clothes or sewing buttons,” he adds.
The Innovation and Passion Lab
The community centre is like a dreamland for the kids. They make toys, innovate makeshift machines, practise art – everything with locally available resources. Recycling as a principle has been deeply inculcated in these young minds, so they do not let even a small item go to waste. Instead, they turn it into something beautiful, useful and worth cherishing.
The Innovation and Passion Lab is an interesting addition to the community centres where “children learn multiple skills based on their interests with the help of local mentors and rural artists.”
Traditional artwork adorns the walls of these community centres, painted by village artists who have spent a lifetime mastering the craft. Children, who are passionate about art, learn from the local maestros and assist them in projects at the community centres and embellishing their own homes.
Rural poets, musicians, singers, writers, artisans etc. partner with the Insight fellows to mentor the children in the rural heritage and culture that is dying out slowly.
Efforts For Good take
Rural kids are deprived of wide-scale exposure to knowledge – so goes the stereotype. Insight Walk proved how India’s rural communities hold a treasure trove of knowledge on life skills and a self-sustainable way of living. The children under their ambit are growing up with an amazing blend of wisdom – where tradition meets modernity. So the girl who dreams of becoming a police inspector someday can easily tutor someone in the nitty-gritty of organic farming. Efforts For Good applauds the incredible efforts of Subodh and Sanket Jain in shaping childhoods into ideal future citizens.
Rahul Khera and Gautam Jindal, volunteers (aka hunger heroes) at Feeding India, were among the many Delhi NCR residents accustomed to seeing hungry children pick up half-eaten burgers or stale sandwiches from the dustbin and savour those with the brightest smiles. Like many others, they also had the will to promote equitable food distribution but was perplexed about the approach, until they learnt about the community fridge initiative which has gained unprecedented success in Saudi Arabia and few other European countries. Meanwhile, community fridges were already being installed outside restaurants or in public places in a handful of cities like Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Coimbatore and Kochi.
Thank you for overwhelming response for the Happy Fridge concept. We need more funds from you to install more fridges like this across India. With the limited funds avaialble Feeding India was able to install three fridges only. Kindly donate here http://bit.ly/happyfridge
Needless to mention, with a shocking 103rd rank in the Global Hunger Index and a food wastage estimate of around Rs 58,000 crore – India was perhaps the best country to implement such an initiative. With Gautam’s help, an enthusiastic Rahul invested his own savings to install a ‘Happy Fridge’ outside his residence at Sun City, Sector 54 in Gurgaon. Set up in 2017 by these Feeding India volunteers, the fridge in Gurgaon has inspired the NGO to scale up the project across India.
No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank
‘Happy Fridge’ fostered many smiles
It didn’t take long for the local residents to learn about this laudable endeavour. They welcomed it, as wastage of excess food was a recurring problem in almost every household. “Intimating the localities was no mammoth task, thanks to social media. However, it was difficult to spread the word among those who actually needed the food,” shares Rahul, who went from auto stands to slums, inviting rickshaw pullers, ragpickers or roadside vendors to avail the community fridge any time they feel hungry. “The security guards of our residential complex played a huge role in explaining how the fridge works to the beneficiaries,” he adds.
The operational and maintenance costs of the ‘ happy fridge ‘ are being maintained diligently by the community members.
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“I remember one young man who had arrived from a village looking for some menial day job. Somehow he had run out of his paltry savings and had no money to buy one decent meal a day. For about a month, our happy fridge was his solace, till he earned his first salary from a housekeeping job,” shares a jubilant Rahul.
In another incident, a truck driver returning in the wee hours of midnight was starving after a whole day’s hard work. He had run out of cooking fuel at his home, so our fridge was at his rescue.
“The residents keep all sorts of palatable dishes in the happy fridge, ranging from dry snacks, fruits to cooked meals. Sometimes, they even keep raw vegetables, to ensure not a single bit of good food ends up in their trash while other people go hungry to bed,” reveals Rahul.
On an average, each happy fridge supplies around 10-15 meals in a day. The gratitude and pure smiles of the hungry souls after a fulfilling meal are more than enough to continue to motivate Rahul and his neighbours. In fact, inspired by him, many other communities in the Delhi-NCR region set up community fridges in their areas.
Since the past few years, Feeding India has been a prominent organisation working in the forefront to solve the hunger problem in India. Primarily, they were involved in redistributing leftover food from weddings and parties among the underprivileged people in different cities of India. Their volunteers, better known as “Hunger Heroes of India”, worked actively to bridge the gap between food wastage and food crisis.
“We used to get a lot of calls from individual households to collect their excess food. However, unfortunately, we lacked the manpower and planning to launch our programme on a door to door basis. We were desperately looking for an alternative when we learnt about the community fridges,” shares Srishti Jain, co-founder of Feeding India.
After interacting with Rahul Khera and other campaigners of community fridges, Feeding India decided to amplify this extraordinary project throughout the length and breadth of India. Presently, they have launched the #FightFoodWaste campaign to install 500 community fridges – nicknamed ‘ Happy Fridge ’. So any passer-by – be it a kid going to school without a lunchbox, or a labourer returning home late at night with no promise of a dinner – can now grab a pack of biscuits or a bowl of ‘dal-chawal’ (rice & lentil soup) to satiate their hunger. Click here to contribute for ‘ Happy Fridge ‘ and ensure India never sleeps hungry again.
Feeding India also urges everyone to make a promise to stop wasting food and instead consider donating it to those in need.