What started as a small gesture, of feeding underprivileged children, by 31-year-old Darshan and his friends has turned into a full-blown movement.
I t’s funny how mundane decisions turn out to be life-changing ones, right? This is exactly what happened in Vadodara-based Darshan Chandan’s case. An email he shot off to a restaurant, after being deeply disappointed with the service he got there, just changed the course of Darshan’s life.
When the restaurant management apologised for the poor service and offered to give him free food, Darshan refused the offer and asked them to feed underprivileged children instead.
The restaurant went ahead with his suggestion, and after feeding the children, sent pictures to Darshan.
“This is the moment that changed me forever. The smile on the faces of those children left me touched. And that is when I decided to do something about it,” he says.
Thus, the BhookMitao campaign was born. On June 7, 2015, Darshan and his friends went and fed a couple of children in a slum in Vadodara, Gujarat. Today, the BhookMitao movement provides nutritious lunch to as many as 1,200 children in Vadodara.
How they do it?
As the volunteer network grows, Darshan has divided it into groups. Each group takes up a particular spot in the city. For instance, in Vadodara there are 10 spots, usually in slums, where the children are fed.
Volunteers of every spot have a Whatsapp group of their own.
On Mondays, they decide what the menu for the coming Sunday is going to be. They coordinate with those who want to donate, procure the raw materials, and cook the meals in their own kitchens. The programme usually begins at 11 a.m. with some fun activities for the kids. They screen movies on education or make them do some craft work etc., and then lunch is served. It usually consists of the usual Indian fare of rice, rotis, and pulses. They also give them biscuits and bananas to snack on. The volunteers and children eat the same food together.
“We don’t accept any money. When people contact us saying they want to donate, we insist on only raw materials,” he says.
This is what the impact looks like
The movement which started in Vadodara has spread to four more cities – Gandhidam, Adipur, Nadiad, and Kosamba. And two months ago, it spread to Mumbai as well.
The number of volunteers has grown from six to over 600 now.
“The response has truly been overwhelming. A big part of the credit goes to the social media. Every day we have people writing in asking how they can contribute or volunteer,” Darshan says.
And more importantly, Darshan, who works in sales for a shipping company, says he finds the energy to keep going when he sees the positive impact the campaign has had on the children and their families.
A few weeks after the programme began, some volunteers of a particular spot in Vadodara realised that two children, who used to come regularly for lunch on Sundays, were missing. These children used to have their grandparents dropping them off for the programme. A couple of the volunteers decided to go and find out why these children had suddenly stopped coming. When they approached the grandparents, they told the volunteers that they had been convinced that education was important and had sent the children back to their village and had them admitted in a school.
“This was such a motivational moment for all of us, especially because these two children were made to beg during the week. This is exactly the kind of change we want to bring about,” says Darshan.
Apart from feeding the children, the volunteers also enquire with the parents if these children are sent to school and counsel them on the importance of education.
“Our vision is to ensure that at least 150 children are sent to school in Vadodara by the end of 2016,” he says.
For those who are socially conscious, Darshan has only one piece of advice.
“My mantra in life is ISR – Individual Social Responsibility. Instead of waiting for governments or other organisations to bring about a change, every individual needs to start doing something on his/her own. This is what will actually usher in change,” says Darshan.
In December 2015, Darshan was shortlisted for the Awal Gujarati award given by Radio City. Apart from this, the movement has received recognition from Lions Club, Rotary Club etc.
It is heartening to see that people are taking note of this movement, says Darshan. Recently, the Collector of Vadodara called him up and spoke to him about the ways in which this movement could be taken forward.
A movement that started off with just a couple of youngsters, now has a volunteer base of people of all ages and from all walks of life. And this gives a lot of hope to Darshan, who wants to see this movement become a pan-India one.
To know more about the BhookMitao campaign, check them out on Facebook.