Everyone who has stayed in a hostel at some point in their life knows that no matter how tasty the food at the hostel canteen is, the residents have a list of complaints regarding the same. Where most of the time the taste and hygiene is an issue, the problem at campuses that provide world-class amenities is that the menu is not diverse. Meanwhile, the most important thing that students forget is that they are in a college to study and not to fight for food that they are already getting in surplus. It is usual tendency to take for granted the things that are easily accessible.
However, the students of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) understood that when they had all the facilities in the campus and a good meal three times a day, the world outside their campus was hunger stricken. Therefore, the students under the leadership of Arpan Roy decided to skip one of their meals a week and give it to those who had nothing to eat. This marked the beginning of a noble initiative ‘Skip A Meal’.
Arpan, though a Malayalee, was brought up in different States of north India and therefore was exposed to poverty, which would probably be unknown to him had he stayed in Kerala as he feels his homeland is far more developed than the others.
Explaining his thought behind starting such an initiative he says, “I had started this initiative called ‘Skip A Meal’ in my college Tata Institute Of Social Sciences four years ago. Since we were based at the Tuljapur campus (Maharashtra), a rural campus, we got to know that there were many children in the area who had very little access to food. We started by skipping meals every Saturday, and then taking the cooked food and distributing it to the childcare centres and among the parent-less children in Tuljapur city. One meal a week might seem trivial in the eyes of critics, but to the ones lying on the streets bereft of a single drop of water, a meal would be banquet, a true blessing. Like the wise say, ‘something is always better than nothing’. We soon realised we need to give more than just food to the kids. We slowly moved into the field of education and other extracurricular activities.”
However, for Arpan and his team of friends, implementing this was not as easy as it sounded. They didn’t get any support in order to spread a word about the initiative as it was a rural area and there were no local English newspapers or even news channels to spread this concept. They were confined to work in that particular area only. But the initiative started gaining momentum and more people volunteered to be a part of it when online bloggers as well as different online organisations like YourStory and Youth Ki Awaaz wrote about the initiative.
Arpan is of the opinion that apart from hostel canteens, a substantial amount of food that is thrown away from hotels and weddings can easily be distributed to the destitute in the locality, which only requires a few hands and a united mindset. He adds that this will in turn cure the twin evil of hunger and food wastage in society.
“It a very simple concept, I feel it’s high time that we stop taking and start giving back to society. Let’s stop cribbing about the problems around us, and be changemakers instead. The kids now look up to us, and more than the food, they now want our company,” he added.
It’s been more than three years now since Arpan started this movement and so far the team has distributed around 53,000 meals. Madras Christian College, Chennai, and St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, have also taken up the initiative to feed their locality, not restricting themselves to children alone but focusing more to reach out to the homeless and the hungry by providing them with physical as well as mental food. They are also planning to move into the field of skill training soon.
He wishes that the initiative pans out into a national students’ movement as he believes that the initiative has immense potential and that the youth would value the sacrificial technique of sharing one’s own food as opposed to working with funds.
“We have realized our company is as precious as the food to the lonely and deprived. Likewise, if all the residential colleges in India also implement this concept of ‘one college-one locality’, students could outdo the potential of government policies to eradicate hunger as college-locality ratio is quite good in the country,” argues Arpan.
When asked if he is planning to start a chapter of ‘Skip A Meal’ in Kerala he says they would look into it if the need arises.
“I have never personally felt the need for such a initiative to be there in Kerala as it’s a hub of philanthropist and government schemes that cater to the poor and the underprivileged to a great extent, compared to other States. I see Kerala as a resource centre that can be used to uplift people who are in grave need elsewhere and I am working on a few ideas keeping this in mind. I will try to reach out to more people with other initiatives, taking it one step at a time.”
One of the main reasons he feels why such programmes are required even today despite all the government initiatives is that only the rich are getting richer and the poor remain poor.
He stresses on the point that the amount of money that goes out during the tax cut off for 1% of the rich is huge and that amount is enough to feed the entire population. Millions of people die of starvation each year. Even conservative statistics reflect a horrifying situation. One billion have shunted bodies or damaged brains because of inadequate food.
“There is unjust division of the earth’s foods and its resources and the 1 per cent who are rich control it all. Most don’t care as we are well-fed and secure. I think that a possible solution for this could only be to break the inequality that prevails. Maybe a revolution,” Arpan added.
‘Skip A Meal’ is one of many such initiatives, which, instead of relying on government schemes and wasting time highlighting the flaws in these schemes, the youth of India is shouldering to bring in efficient changes in society.