My Story: “As A Food Scientist In Uttarakhand, I’ve Trained 1000+ Village Women To Become Food Entrepreneurs”

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“Six years ago, I stepped into the pristine hilly terrains of Tehri Garhwal, posted as a Food Scientist at Krishi Vigyan Kendra. The mountains and her people welcomed me with utmost warmth. Though I hailed from Rajasthan, I rarely felt out of place among the hill tribes and their minimalistic lives. 

Initially, it took me a while to adapt to the local language, cuisine and lifestyle. During that time, I used to closely observe the village women with astonishment. Their daily lives know no rest – from managing the household and raising kids to farming in the family plots – they do everything without a word of complaint or exasperation on their lips. 

Yet poverty reigned in their homes. The women were hardly compensated properly compared to the amount of effort they put in. Upon keen inspection, I figured out that they lacked in two aspects – direction and connectivity.

No one has ever become poor by giving
– Anne Frank

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Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

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Introducing The Idea Of Self-Help Groups

They were labouring day in and day out in the fields but they got a paltry sum for their produce in the local market. I would notice them every day after my work hours and deeply felt to do something for them.

I would finish my day’s work by afternoon and head out to meet and sit with the women. I shared with them how skill training in food processing can help them earn a better livelihood. Most of them were intrigued by the idea and thus we started launching small training centres in every village.

Earlier, the government schemes and projects like Self-Help Groups (SHGs) and small-scale co-operatives only existed in official documents. The local communities were either unaware or indifferent towards these. But, once I explained to them how such a structured framework can help them learn and earn more, they consented at once.

How I Put My Food Tech Degree To Perfect Use

Soon, SHGs were formed in every village. Women of all ages, enthusiastic and ecstatic, started enrolling. Being a food scientist, I devised various cutting-edge, unique and all-natural products from the local produce, which could be easily prepared by these women.

I taught them how to prepare jellies and syrups from seasonal fruits like apricot, plum, hill orange (malta) and lemon. I knew that the alpine flower rhododendron had properties to treat cardiac ailments, so I formulated the rhododendron syrup, a popular product among conscious urban consumers.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

Rose bushes were abundant in every home in the hills. In fact, people would often be pestered by the dried flowers, petals and leaves cluttering their yards. So I decided to put the flower to better use. Our all-natural rose syrup sells like hotcake from the supermarket shelves of the cities, where finding a rose plant is a stroke of luck. I also trained our women to prepare savoury, lip-smacking pickles from fresh, chemical-free mountain vegetables.

Shaping Future & Saving Lives

My priority has not only been ensuring the maximum profits for these women but also to assure their well-being. In these regions, anaemia exceedingly persists among women and teenage girls. For them, I invented the iron laddoo – a sweet made from millet grains which is prepared by the women in SHGs and distributed across the villages by volunteers of Integrated Child Development Services.

Oorja is another of my invention, which is an energy-rich baby food infused with growth enhancers – a homemade variety for these poor families who cannot afford canned formula.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

Besides the products, I also conduct awareness campaigns on hygiene, women’s health and menstruation in schools among teenage girls. Recently I was nominated for Woman For Woman Award by WEFT for my work.

Natural & Chemical-Free Products

Our products are marketed under a series of labels, of which Hilans, named after an exotic hill bird, is the most popular. All the items they prepare are packaged and sent off to nearby towns like Dehradun and Hrishikesh. We have also gained a considerable consumer base in Delhi as well.

These days, consumers are opting for our handmade, country products over established corporate brands simply because of the quality, purity and the magical essence of the hills. These are 100% free from Maida, preservatives and chemicals of all sorts.

Organic Garhwal – our segment of grocery products and Devkaush – the label for sweets and snacks are becoming top favourites among our customers.

Kirti Kumari Food Scientist

Challenges Along The Way

I will say I have trained more than 1000 women across almost 30 villages in Tehri Garhwal. But, unfortunately, 200 among them have succeeded to sustain themselves in 7 of our most active SHGs. Many of them were old who dropped out due to age-related health issues, while others were housewives and mothers who conceded to the societal pressure that frowns at a woman’s independence.

The first three years were hardest for me. Convincing, and mostly sustaining the women were no cakewalk. I was on the verge of giving up, disappointed at myself. But soon, my tireless efforts of three years bore fruit, as the few gritty women who managed to stay behind, raised considerable profit around 2015. As the news of their success spread, more and more women poured in to join the SHGs.

A Commoner Who Reached The Zenith

I never imagined that I would be involved directly with any kind of social work. My focus had always centred around my career and I had little time for anything else. But, now when I look back, I feel that there was a calling inside me which subconsciously inspired me to devote myself to some greater good.

I wasn’t much fascinated by the stories of extraordinary achievers, who were blessed with inborn talent. But, I felt truly inspired by the stories of commoners who have attained unprecedented heights by sheer hard work and zeal. I wanted to be someone like that.

I have received quite a number of prestigious awards – both international and national. My name has featured time and again in the media in the past couple of years. I only hope I can continue with the work I am doing and bring a true change in the lives of these women.”

– Kirti Kumari, Food Scientist, Krishi Vigyan Kendra, Tehri Garhwal

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It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote

‘Happy Fridge’: The Key To Bridge Food Wastage And Hunger Problem In India

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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.

Say Goodbye To Throwing Away Excess Food Because Now You Can Donate The Food To The Needy – Happy Fridge

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

Posted by The Logical Indian on Saturday, October 27, 2018

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.

Support the cause you care for. Browse All CampaignsBrowse all campaigns
Work in progress

Empower Poor Women To Rise Out Of Poverty

1,36,505 Raised
Out of 3,85,000

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Making memories, sprouting awareness

“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.

Feeding India will set up 500 Happy Fridges

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.

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Quote
It's not how much we give
but how much love we put into giving.
- Mother Theresa Quote
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