It was July 6, 2015, eight-year-old Srideep’s birthday. His parents, Chandrima and Chandra Sekhar Kundu, had splurged on a party for him. In the end, there were masses of leftover food that even the catering men were unable to take home. Much of it was trashed.
Later that night, Chandra Sekhar witnessed a scene that changed his life: two children rummaging for food in a garbage dump. One stood guard with a stick to fend off stray dogs; the other foraged the heap. On closer look, he realized, they were having biriyani—polishing off the rice and storing bits of meat in a plastic bag, to savour later. "Pained by the sight, I brought them to my home and provided them whatever we could arrange. I felt extremely guilty for throwing away the excess dishes minutes ago and wondered why I never gave it much of a thought before. I could not sleep that night," he reminisced.
Chandra's life changed forever on that night. The next day, Chandra Sekha, a computer science teacher at Asansol Engineering College, started doing research on the internet about the statistics about hunger in India. One-third of the world’s hungry and malnourished live in India, yet India wastes 40 per cent food produced. Chandra Shekhar bought a tiffin career and started taking excess food from the college canteen to children living near the railway station.
Kundu set up FEED (Food Education and Economic Development), a nonprofit, in 2016, along with colleagues to address the second the issue of malnourished children. Members of FEED felt they did not want to engage with restaurants and hotels for food. “They store food for very long,” adds Kundu. “We don’t serve stale food to children.”
Initially, FEED volunteers used to collect food—themselves or via intermediaries—from office canteens, hostels, medical and police establishments. However, Chandra realized that if he wants to reach out to the nearby village children then transporting excess food left in the night is not possible because the village children would have already slept off with a hungry stomach before he reaches them. Also, he didn’t want to serve stale food to the children the next day. The hunger he noticed in these village children was acute and they lived their lives only with the hope of filling their stomach by the end of the day. "It is difficult to collect food at night as it might be too late for the children. It would be unhygienic to serve them food from the afternoon," he said. He felt that he should somehow provide them fresh meals at night.
Chandra went and had a meeting with the village people and figured out a solution. Kundu and his associates cook fresh food every night in at least three villages near Asansol feeding more than 180 village children every day. Only the children are provided food because he feels that providing a free meal to the adults will give the village people a reason to not work. While the day meals are collected and supplied to the poor in the city, the volunteers of the organization cook fresh food for the poor village children.
After feeding the village children for 6 months, Chandra saw that most of them didn’t attend any school. He realized that these children cannot compete with the more privileged children as their parents cannot teach them or guide them. The government school which they went to provided them free education and mid day meal but they felt humiliated and embarrassed as they couldn’t compete with the more privileged children and then just gave up education. He started after-school tuitions at the 3 villages where he provided the free food at night. He employed the educated from nearby villages to teach at the after-school tuitions every day. After 3 years, these children have now got the confidence to excel and compete with the other children and have the hope to do something in life. “Education and nutrition should go hand in hand. Just by feeding the children, their future is not guaranteed. If we just educate the children and not feed them then with an empty stomach, these children cannot excel in education.” says Chandra.
There are many other nearby villages of Asansol where Chandra has met the villagers, done a survey of the children and tried to setup a similar model of feeding and education. However, he doesn’t have the funds to take it further. “These children are the future of our nation and if we want to build a better future for our nation then these children need to be looked after. It takes Rs. 900 per month to cover the expenses of the food and education for one child. With just Rs. 900 every month, the future of one child can be secured. I request everybody to donate, so that me and my team can reach out to many more children in the surrounding villages.I feel we can prevent many from spending another night on an empty stomach," says Chandra.