Humanity First: This 24-year-old cycles across India to feed the poor amidst the COVID-19 pandemic
Philem Rohan Singh hails from the small town of Moirang in Manipur. The place is famous for Loktak Lake — North East India’s only freshwater lake.
At the age of five, Rohan's parents got divorced, and when he was in Class 12, he lost his father and was under the care of his paternal grandfather. However, these tragedies did not hold him back.
Over the years, he developed a passion for cycling and would often paddle around his neighbourhood. And, in 2017, things took a turn for good for this young cyclist in Delhi.
Philem Rohan Singh
“When I was in Delhi during Diwali, the air quality became toxic, and I fell sick due to the pollution. That’s when my passion turned into my vision to contribute towards the betterment of society and humanity,” Rohan tells SocialStory.
During his first cycling excursion called “Pollution Free India” in January 2018 from Delhi to Imphal, he spread awareness on how people can contribute towards a cleaner and healthier environment and make a pollution-free society for the next generations.
In fact, he realised that it wasn’t just the environment that required cleaning. Youths addicted to drugs also needed to focus on their health, fitness, and family. This led him to start a month-long second excursion in March 2018 for anti-pollution and anti-drug awareness.
That campaign led Rohan to regulate these campaigns and found the ‘Cycling for Humanity’ initiative with his support team.
“I have travelled across the country and met with people from different languages, religions, and cultures. People from every small town welcomed me with love and compassion. I have interacted with over 2.5 lakh people and more than 300 institutes during my journeys,” he says.
About a year ago, when the pandemic was at its peak, Rohan started a 'Feeding the Hungry’ campaign in Manipur, providing food to 50-60 people each day. In February 2021, he decided to expand this campaign to four major metros — Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Delhi — feeding more than 4000 people in two months.
In his two-month-long journey — from February 5 to April 8 — Rohan traversed over 5,000 km, starting from Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, and finally, ending it in Delhi.
According to him, the journey was incredibly challenging while adhering to all the protocols laid by the government amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
To sustain his energy during the journey, he pedalled according to his convenience and travelled about 90-100 km a day, and focussed more on interacting and feeding people.
However, the pandemic needs more than just food and ration. It also requires awareness around safety measure like masking up and practising hygiene. Rohan says he prioritised health and hygiene, and always wore a mask and carried a sanitiser with him.
“I am healthy and safe despite travelling across all containment zones. During my travels, I always prefer guest houses and avoid unnecessary contacts,” he says.
In each of these cities, Rohan used to contact his friends and relatives living in those areas and bought food packets from good quality and reasonably priced restaurants and hotels by asking them to feed the poor.
Rohan received a lot of support from the people around him. In fact, he also received donations from various organisations. However, he has not received any sponsorships or grants from any government bodies and says he is looking forward to their support.
Other cycling initiatives
Besides these campaigns, Rohan and his team have also conducted initiatives like ‘Save Sangai and Humanity’ in Manipur in 2018, as well as a ‘#WaterforLife’ campaign from June-September 2019 from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, spreading awareness on water sanitisation.
He also honoured the Pulwama martyrs and raised funds for one of the victim’s family in Assam through another cycling campaign from March 6 to March 15, 2019.
The 'Feeding the Hungry' campaign
He had started a ‘Voice Of Inclusion, Dignity, and Respect’ campaign from New Delhi to Tokyo, Japan, on February 17, 2020, but it was stopped midway in Kolkata on March 17, owing to the pandemic.
“Three years of my cycling experience has been mesmerising for me. Interacting with different people, helping them, and making them smile gives me immense pleasure. I have travelled pan-India, except to Arunachal Pradesh and Daman and Diu. I have also travelled to Nepal, Bangladesh, and Bhutan on wheels,” Rohan says.
Challenges and the way forward
For Rohan and his team, limited funds always posed a challenge. In fact, there were several places where they had to limit their feeding initiatives due to lack of funds.
“It actually made me upset, and I wish I could get support from some organisation or government bodies so that we can reach out to as many people as we can,” shares Rohan.
However, this isn’t bringing him down. He plans to continue this campaign as it is the need of the hour.
Rohan says, “About 14 percent of India's population is undernourished, 189.2 million people are malnourished, and about 34.7 percent are children under the age of five. My mission is to feed as many people as I can.”