Arpan Roy’s parents made it a point that he spent his birthdays with underprivileged children. Their aim was to make their boy understand how harsh life can be, and if ever, there was a chance to make the lives of underprivileged communities better, Arpan should do so. A chunk of Arpan’s childhood was spent in rural Odisha where he had seen people from regions like Kalahandi battling starvation, and somehow surviving on mango kernels.
In 2012, while Arpan was studying at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Tuljapur campus, Maharashtra, he noticed how copious amounts of food would be wasted every day at the student mess. “I would often read in newspapers that 3000–4000 children die annually in Maharashtra, and at the same time, seeing this much food being wasted in the college was eating me up. We deployed volunteers to check students who were wasting food and to make sure that the amount of food being wasted reduced to an extent.” However, their efforts were in vain, food was still being wasted, and Arpan was still perturbed. Soon, an idea struck.
The idea came in from something that his parents imbibed in him as a child – give something of yours to someone who needs it more than you. Arpan decided that he and a group of volunteers would skip a meal, and distribute it to the hungry in and around the college campus. While they were researching the target groups, the Skip a Meal team found something that moved them even more, Arpan tells us, “During a survey trip, on our way back to the college, we visited an orphanage. We were shocked to see the food they were eating, it was dry roti and red chilli powder in liquid form, and this was their meal through the year!”
Arpan adds, “Hunger kills more people than the ones who fall prey to AIDS, cancer, and TB combined. Hunger kills 25,000 people every year in India and 53 million go to bed hungry everyday in India.”
June 18, 2012, was the first time that the ‘Skip a Meal,’ skipped their meal and redistributed it to the ones with grumbling bellies. Today, 300 students at the TISS Tuljapur campus skip their meal every Saturday to feed the ones in need.
Arpan says that he never wants Skip a Meal to be registered as an NGO. He wants it to be a student-driven initiative that he hopes to take to other colleges across the country as well, he says, “We want this concept to gain momentum and pan out into a nation-wide students movement because we believe the potential is immense and that the youth would value the sacrificial technique of sharing one’s own food as opposed to working with funds.”
Presently, Madras Christian College, Chennai, and St. Stephen’s College, New Delhi, have taken the initiative to feed the homeless and the hungry in their locality. Arpan says, “Likewise, if all the residential colleges in India also implement this concept of ‘One College-One Locality’, students could outdo the potential of the government policies to eradicate hunger as college-locality ratio is quite good in the country.”
Arpan talks about the naysayers, “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 is a banquet, a true blessing. Something is always better than nothing. Apart from the colleges, hotels as well as weddings throw out excess food, and most times, in substantial amounts. A few hands and a united mindset can easily distribute this food to the destitute in their locality to cure the twin evil of hunger and food wastage.”
Arpan says that the kids at the orphanages the team goes to look forward to the time they spend with the Skip a Meal team. The Skip a Meal team has now started delving into education as well. “We realised that these kids need more than just an education, they have to study hard and work for better future. We moved into the field of education and activities, through an organisation which was promoting English education initially. We started working too, but soon realised the kids need more than just English. We have other extra activities like art and crafts, handicrafts, etc.”Arpan and his team found that kids from rural areas find it difficult to cope up with the syllabus that was not designed keeping the rural children in mind. He says, “It was basically to meet the needs of urban children. We are now in the process of developing an alternative form of curriculum for the children from rural pockets now.“
And that’s not all, the team is now focussed on two aspects – holistic development of children, and opportunities for the homeless people. Arpan says, “We are trying to come up with skill training programs for them and create job opportunities for the homeless people, it is not only just food now, we are more concerned about empowering them.”
Arpan is a graduate now and yet, this initiative started by him is carrying on. He says the programme has been a success because every year, like-minded people join in. He says that he is always looking for more people to lend a hand and while there can be challenged because of lack of funds, he is confident that the programme will only keep expanding.
Skip a Meal, with other colleges joining in as well, feeds about 1,300 people every week. From that very first drive in 2012, they have now shared more than 53,000 across three states in the country. Arpan says, “Our target group is the millennium generation. When nations around the world are ageing, India’s average age is still 28. We are going be providing workforce to the majority of the world. And we believe this age group can come up with innovating ideas to solve most of the problems around us.”
“I love dreaming big, I want to build a centre for the elderly, disabled, homeless, and parentless children. A sort of community. My dream is that kids from all strata get the opportunity to study in the best institutions in India and abroad,” says Arpan as he sings off.