Meet this former child labourer, who feeds about 2,000 people every day
Born in Rajahmundry, Andhra Pradesh, Malleswar Rao belonged to a family of farmers. His family moved to Nagpur, where they worked on his grandfather’s farm that was quite prosperous. However, heavy rains destroyed all the harvest on their farmland and their livelihood in 1998.
“My father had to sell all our property to clear off the loans, and we were literally on the streets,” Malleshwar tells SocialStory.
The family moved to Nizamabad, Telangana, where his parents had to work as daily wagers and would have just enough to feed the family on most days.
While festivals were a break for most people, Malleshwar’s family suffered as they wouldn’t get paid on those days.
Distributing ration in the pandemic.
“On the days where my parents couldn’t earn money, they would somehow try to make little food for my brother and me, but would fill their stomachs with just water,” he shares.
Despite the many hardships, the 27-year-old is now actively working to curb hunger among the poor in Hyderabad and Rajahmundry through his non-profit Don’t Waste Food.
In fact, he is also helping people amidst the second COVID-19 wave by providing them with oxygen cylinders, rations kits, and cooked meals for those in quarantine.
In a conversation with SocialStory, Malleshwar shares how he started his non-profit in 2012 and the arduous journey that came with it.
Since his parents’ income was never enough for the family, Malleshwar and his brother decided to work in an eatery to earn a daily income of Rs 5 or Rs 10 at the age of eight.
However, they were soon fired from the job as they ran off to play during work hours, seeing other kids play of their age. A passer-by noticed this, which ultimately changed Malleshwar’s life.
“Not only did he help us out in the situation, but he also followed us home, spoke to our parents, and made me join the Samskar Ashram Vidyalayam where he was working as a teacher,” Malleshwar shares, adding his brother was too young to join at the time.
The school was founded by social reformer Hemalatha Lavanam, where the children of poor parents, sex workers, orphaned children, and children from juvenile homes could study.
Besides the curriculum, these children could indulge in other activities, including gardening, writing, painting, cooking, etc.
In 2009, Malleshwar completed Class 10. However, the school was shut down after the death of the founder in 2008 as finances were tight, and Malleshwar had to return home.
Packing meals during the second wave
While he had to pause his education because of several financial problems and started working as a daily wager, one of his friends helped him with another job at a naturopathy ashram.
Here, he worked for about three years and also passed Class 12 exams, with the help of the books the patients’ families gave him.
“I got admission to the Siddhartha Institute of Engineering and Technology, Hyderabad, in 2012. However, I wasn’t familiar with the course and didn’t have any kind of support. I was always kicked out of the lab sessions for about two months because I couldn’t afford the things needed for it such as an apron, drafter, record books, etc.,” he says.
Soon, he got a job as a waiter, where he worked secretly as he had hostel restrictions. Thanks to the job, he was able to buy all the things needed for the class.
Once while serving food at a function — where a splendid feast was arranged — he realised that most of the food is discarded after everyone, including the staff, ate.
“Knowing what it feels like to stay hungry and homeless, I didn’t want that to happen, so I requested them to pack and distribute the food in nearby areas,” Malleshwar says, who made and distributed 800-900 food packets.
Thus erupted the idea for his group, Don’t Waste Food, which he started with his friend Chakradhar Goud in 2012. It was registered officially in 2021 as a non-profit.
Don’t Waste Food
Sourcing foods from eateries, PGs, hostels, weddings, and other functions, Malleshwar distributed anywhere between 500 and 2000 food packets every day.
Initially, Malleshwar did this by himself, but many from IT companies would also volunteer during the weekends.
“I became addicted to distributing food and get immense satisfaction from feeding others. In fact, I don’t get sleep if I know of someone who went hungry,” he shares.
Apart from the people on the streets, the group also helped taking care of patients in government hospitals, those at railway stations, parks, and other public places. They also fed migrant workers and people residing in slum areas.
Distributing blankets during the winters
“I know what it is like to be a hungry child, and what it is like to be a child labourer. I don’t want these children to end up like that. So I try to give basic education, along with some toys and clothes to them,” he says, adding he tries to remove the fear of schools and teachers from these children.
The group never stores food and distributes them on the same day. In fact, the team members eat the food first to ensure its safety before distributing.
Don’t Waste Food group receives most of its funding from social media posts. Malleshwar had also put up a campaign on crowdfunding app Milaap which helped him raise funds to feed people amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Battling the pandemic
Before the Janata Curfew was implemented, Malleshwar gathered his team and distributed bread and other foods with a longer shelf life to over 8,000 people since hotels were to be shut down.
“Once the lockdown started, we used to help the municipality workers with buttermilk to beat the summer heat and meals during the day,” he says.
As the migrant workers started walking on the roads, Malleshwar reached out to his friends on social media and asked them for help. One of them helped arrange 1000 meals from one hotel daily. He also shared photos of desperate workers walking back to aware and ask people to donate money for the cause.
With the help of the donations, he could serve about 20,000 meals to the people every day. Besides, the group also distributed about 4000 food packets to dogs.
Malleshwar Rao and Chakradhar Goud
Seeing his service, NK Travels donated about 25 vehicles to distribute these foods throughout Hyderabad for about two months.
“It was saddening to see people throwing away food after eating just half or lesser. That’s when I decided to switch to dry rations and put up the requirements on Facebook,” he says.
It was a shock to Malleshwar when he found among these donations an anonymous one of 20,000 kg of rice in two containers, which served over 70,000 families during the tough times.
Through many members of the NGO, it could aid people in many cities, including Mumbai, Delhi, Dehradun, and Bengaluru, among others.
He also distributed tonnes of fruits to hospitals, migrants, and those at home in quarantine. Other donations such as 20,000 slippers and 50,000 masks, among other things, were also distributed to the underserved people.
Besides distribution, Malleshwar and his team also helped cremate over 180 bodies during the first wave, and are well-prepared to do it now if the need arises.
While oxygen was affordable last year, it costs about 10X now because of the increasing demand. Owing to the increasing demands, he is now actively procuring oxygen cylinders to help people in need.
Getting an award from Actor Chiranjeevi
Malleshwar’s efforts were recognised by many personalities, including actor Madhavan, Anand Mahindra, and Norwegian diplomat Erik Solheim. He was also mentioned on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Mann ki Baat.’
He has also won many awards, including the Indian Youth Icon in 2018, the Rashtriya Gaurav Award, the Son of the Soil Award in 2019, and the COVID Warrior Award in 2020 from actor Chiranjeevi.
Talking about the road ahead, he says they are planning to launch an app, where struggling people or people new to a city can obtain food for free.
“They will be able to connect to our volunteers who can provide food from nearby restaurants or somebody who wants to donate food,” he adds.
Having known what it is like to be hungry and struggle for a square meal, Malleshwar says he is on a life mission to ensure that nobody goes hungry.