[Monday Motivation] Focused on hunger and education, this 29-year-old professional is working to uplift slums
With the aim of achieving zero hunger and 100 percent literacy in India, Nilay Agarwal established "Project Hunger" and "Dream School" through his NGO Vishalakshi Foundation.
Nilay Agarwal, an ontologist by profession, always wanted to do something impactful. The 29-year-old wanted to do something for society outside of his regular 8-hours job.
Hailing from a modest background, he worked to be successful in his career before starting an NGO. However, one event propelled him into action.
A friend of his, who was about to have her wedding in a few days, passed away in a car accident. “We were all happy and preparing for her wedding. However, her passing away reminded me that life is indeed concise, and we must do what we want without waiting — we might not get a second chance,” Nilay tells SocialStory.
After this incident, in 2019, he decided to start his foundationin Lucknow– named after his deceased friend. He started by collaborating with a local NGO to distribute food to people. After posting about his initiative on social media, he started getting enquiries.
“People usually feed the hungry only during festivals or special occasions, and that too a particular section of people. However, about 7,000 people are dying daily out of hunger in India, and about 20 crore people sleep on an empty stomach every day. This data shocked me,” says Nilay.
Believing in himself
Having a stable job on one side, Nilay says that it was difficult to make the people around him believe in his mission.
“At first, people laughed at me. They didn’t believe I was serious or had any long-term plans. But I knew I was going to go on until my actions made a difference,” he says.
The first campaign involved feeding around 100 people in Lucknow. But to Nilay’s surprise, he received enough funds via social media to feed 1,000 people.
Looking at Nilay’s similar initiatives, netizens gradually came forward to join him.
He says that in the last two years, his foundation has been able to feed over six lakh people – about 500 people daily – in 11 cities (Delhi, Lucknow, Gurugram, Noida, Ranchi, Mumbai, Jaipur, Amroha, Fatehpur, Banda, and Prayagraj) with the help of 3,000+ young volunteers across the cities.
But unlike many other feeding organisations, Nilay is a stern believer in not giving leftover foods. “For us, quality is the utmost priority and believe in serving what we can eat as we are not sure if the leftover food is hygienic,” he asserts.
The pandemic made the situation worse. Many people were suffering and many had to migrate to their hometowns after losing jobs.
Nilay decided to help and distributed 25,000 packets of ration during the first wave. Amid the second wave, they doubled their efforts and reached out to more people. While they give free meals to the underprivileged in cities like Ranchi and Lucknow every weekend, they also serve 500 people every day in Gurugram.
However, when his volunteers were unable to take to the streets during the lockdowns, Nilay would distribute food on his own to feed 1,000 people.
For Nilay and his organisation, social media was the game changer as it served as the medium for most people to get to know about the initiative and reach out to him for donations. He also crowdfunds on websites like Milaap and DonateKart.
Additionally, in 2020, Nilay was recognised by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, Anandiben Patel, for his widespread efforts in helping the community throughout the pandemic.
While distributing food, he noticed that children living in the slums would not go to school, not even before the lockdown.
So, in July 2020, he started Project Dream School that provides free education, study material and mid-day meals to slum children. The first such school was set up within six months in Gurugram. He rented out six rooms in the Gurugram slums.
“The children and I cleaned up the entire slum by picking out all kinds of waste. So I decided to adopt the slum and took measures to improve their condition. In three months, a proper school was set up in which 52 kids are getting free education.”
He has also built six tin shed schools in slums, which are educating over 1,000 children across cities.
Today, this education model has been implemented in two more slums and is helping uplift slums in several cities like Delhi, Noida, Gurugram, Banda, Lucknow, Amroha, and Fatehpur.
He wishes to educate and elevate many more such underprivileged children in the future.
“My dream is to create a world where children who are suffering can get a better life so that they can look back and recall the wonderful childhood they had. I'm working in that direction,” he signs off.
Edited by Kanishk Singh