If you are a Ratatouille movie fan, there is no way you can forget what Chef Gusto said to Remy “Food always comes to those who love to cook.” But in a country where 195.9 million people are undernourished, it can be said with certainty that, getting food is a privilege that not many can afford.
When one has to go to bed hungry, day after day, poverty steals away the warmth of their soul. So, as hunger and starvation continue to bite in India, and experience tells us how governments have failed to treat food as a human right or protect access to safe and nutritious food, this man, on the other hand, has pledged to stand up against this bitter problem. He is ready to take up infinite challenges just to ensure that no one goes to bed on an empty stomach.
Vikas Aggarwal, the man behind Apni Roti, in a heart-warming conversation with Life Beyond Numbers tells us what drove him to help the poor selflessly and why he is on a mission to end hunger.
Born and brought up in Malbazar, in West Bengal, the thought of helping others is etched in his memory since childhood. “It is easy to understand what others are going through when you have the first-hand experience of living in poverty yourself,” says Aggarwal. “We did have financial problems, at times getting proper food was an issue. Today our situation has changed for better but I wanted to help people in need and therefore, the mobile NGO was born.”
According to FAO estimates in “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World, 2018” report, 195.9 million people are undernourished in India. By this measure, 14.8% of the population is undernourished in India. Also, 51.4% of women in reproductive age between 15 to 49 years are anemic.
Started on January 1, this year, the 2 months-old NGO has already received an unprecedented response from social media and now is 2.5 thousand volunteers strong.
“The initiative to feed hungry people started 4 years back and we started a canteen in Deogarh in Odisha and Bihar to feed hungry people. But we thought it is better if the NGO is mobile and why not instead of people coming to food, food comes to them instead,” says Vikash.
He continues. “Serving meals is not enough to the poor, the food has to be fresh, nutritional and has to be prepared in a hygienic manner. The roti-dispensing van has a food manager and an assistant who serve people good and hot meal every day.”
What makes the Apni Roti food van unique?
It is incorporated with an automatic roti-making machine that can dispense 1000 rotis an hour and serves to as much as 400 – 2000 needy people every day.
The food van works as a catalyst between the needy and food. It moves amid the remote areas of West Bengal and Jharkhand delivering food to the people from the disadvantaged section of the society.
Vikash says, “The crowd gathers depending on whether the van is parked near the slums or not and the number of people benefiting every day varies from 400 people to 2000 people.”
For about 2 weeks the food van stays outside the city and serves in remote areas of the state and then following 2 weeks, it veers across the slums in Kolkata- Khidderpore, Park Circus, Dakshineshwar, Sovabazar, Patipukur, Lake Town and others, where it serves free hot meals to the hungry souls.
Further, the machine made rotis comes with add ons such as ghee, pickles and sometimes sweets, which brings a priceless smile on their faces.
Not just that, there is also a WhatsApp Group called ‘Apni Roti Squad‘ where the location of the roti-dispensing van is shared every day so that the volunteers can join as per their convenience.
Recharging needy people through Fresh Hot Meals
While one resident of a slum in Canal circular road, Kolkata, (where the food van was parked on Saturday) Rita Maity tells LBN, “The food is very good and we have roti and pickles whenever the food van arrives. My husband works in a shop but we don’t have enough income to feed ourselves every day.” Another resident of the same area, Dipali Rai says, “We want Apni Roti to come here daily. We and our children both are happy because we get good food for free.”
Apart from them, an elated school student, Payel Das shares that she likes the food from the NGO and faces no problem regarding the availability of food. “I also want them to come to us daily and serve good food,” she adds.
The Global Hunger Index 2018 ranks India at 103 out of 119 countries on the basis of three leading indicators – the prevalence of wasting and stunting in children under 5 years, under 5 child mortality rate, and the proportion of undernourished in the population. With a score of 31.1, India suffers from a serious level of hunger.
The food manager of the social startup, Vikash Aggarwal (who shares the same name as the founder of Apni Roti) tells LBN that “About 150-200 people have come here today. Be it children or aged people everyone enjoys our fresh hot meal.”
Will feeding the hungry eliminate hunger?
About 21 million tonnes of wheat is wasted in India and 50% of all food across the world meets the same fate and never reaches the needy. In fact, according to the agriculture ministry, INR 50,000 crores worth of food produced is wasted every year in the country.
Earlier, we have talked about this 16-year-old Gurgaon girl’s Double Roti initiative to channelize the surplus food items from bakeries to feed the needy. There is a very thin line that separates food wasters from food seekers. Food security cannot be achieved if food wastage is not reduced. “It is easy to clap your hands from a distance but it takes courage and grit to help others selflessly,” concludes Aggarwal.
It is said that strong people don’t put others down, they lift them up and Aggarwal is one of them.
He donates 25 percent of his earning to help the poor living in the city so that they don’t go to bed hungry. Aggarwal reveals that he has very little expectation from the society in exchange for the noble initiative of feeding the needy. No, he doesn’t expect you to change one jot but all he asks from everyone around him is to do their bit every day to see the change in the world.
LBN applauds the work Apni Roti and the team has been doing since the beginning of this year.
Step forward for the dignity of the needy and liberate the poor from the clutches of hunger!