New Delhi: You don’t have to be a middle-aged billionaire to begin thinking of giving back to society. For, a young Grade 10 student of Shri Ram School in Gurugram, Haryana, is drawing an innate sense of happiness and already making a difference by reducing food wastage and providing food to the needy.
At a time when students are either focused on their grades in schools or stay glued to their smart phones, 16-year-old Taira Bhargava is setting an example on social responsibility. She runs an NGO Project Double Roti that supplies bread at various locations in Delhi to feed the hungry.
Statistics on fingertips:
Ask her what drives her to this benign cause, and Taira rattles off statistics. “India is home to 196 million people, who don’t have enough food. One fourth of all under-nourished people on the planet live in our country. India is home to over one-third of world’s chronically malnourished children. And, over 38 per cent of children under 5 are stunted.”
Even as one is left gaping at the concern the teenager has for the poor, she wonders: “Why, our country that’s growing so fast, is not able to ensure food for all? Why over 1.3 million children here die of malnutrition every year? Why, despite knowing all this, everyone does not do something about it and simply watch?
Obviously, nothing that Taira says went unnoticed in her case. It was a small incident last year that spurred the move that is now changing lives and bringing smiles to numerous men, women and children.
Becoming the change:
She recalls: “At a marriage function, I saw enormous quantity of left-over food and wondered what would happen to it after I went back home. As I waited, I observed loads of food being dumped into the bin. It was appalling. The food could have been distributed among the distressed and hungry. Just the thought that similar scenarios might be occurring at other venues, forced me to come out of my comfort zone and I decided to become the change.”
“Coming from a privileged background, with access to good education and being able to eat the food that I want and whenever I want, actually put a pressure on me. In my own way, I wanted to do a small gesture towards the hungry,” she adds.
Taira began approaching bakeries. Though people heard her patiently, none of the more-than 50 bakery owners/caretakers showed any inclination to partner with her for her initiative. And then Modern Bazaar, India’s first supermarket that donates a lot of surplus food to dog farms, but is still left with a lot of food, stood in support of Taira.
Plan takes shape:
After negotiating major milestones, Project Double Roti was kickstarted in July 2018 in collaboration with Modern Bazaar, having several outlets, including bakeries. Taira sourced food to Cheshire Home, a dwelling for the destitute and disabled; to Mother Teresa’s charity; to Kasturba Balika Vidhyalaya, a government-run school for underprivileged girls; and the homeless wandering around various temples.
Initially, even though Taira had the intent, yet no funds; her parents buttressed her initiative. An air-conditioned van with a dedicated driver was arranged so that the food does not get spoiled. With time, other bakeries came forward and began providing extra food.
Taira maintains that her NGO ensures the food delivered from bakeries is fresh. “From the producer to the consumer, all logistics are taken care of steadfastly. Since I am studying and it’s not possible for me to personally be present on all food delivery trips, my parents have now employed a person, who is in charge of operations and executions.”
Her school has also encouraged Taira by offering excess food from the canteen for the needy.
So, are there any expansion plans and a strategy on food being wasted at weddings or social functions? Taira finds that discomforting. “It’s a very challenging task and I wish we could speed up in creating a system to avoid food being wasted. We are raising funds to buy more vans and hire drivers to assist us in transporting surplus food from various venues. In the near future, I also want to start a volunteer program. This will help us collect and distribute food regularly in different parts of the city.”
The young girl has thoughtfully refrained from distributing food to street dwellers directly. “I realize that presently we neither have the infrastructure, not resources to undertake large scale distribution. My experience, when I go out to distribute food personally, has been so rewarding. It has helped me stay grounded and I value the little things in life, which hitherto, were taken for granted,” Taira says.
Experiencing the joy of giving:
She is filled with gratitude when an elderly man blesses her on receiving a loaf of bread. She stays silent seeing some children hide the food in their clothes and come back for a second helping. Taira says emotionally, “The joy of seeing a smile on a hungry person’s face is akin to getting good grades in class.”
Yes, Taira is good in academics. She is also a trained Kathak dancer, plays the piano with aplomb and is an experienced table tennis player.
But more than anything, right now, she is focused on ensuring no one goes hungry in a country that has surplus food production. “Nothing can be more demeaning for humanity if anyone has to sleep hungry,” she empathizes.
• About 50 per cent of all food across the world is wasted and never reaches the needy.
• A report by Indian Agriculture Ministry claims Rs500 billion (Dh26.76 billion) worth of food produced is wasted every year in the country.
• About 21 million tonnes of wheat is wasted in India.