Today is the one day in the month I am observing a fast (more on that in some other blog post) and coincidentally today is also the day I was presented the opportunity to consult with Emily Rosenbaum, the CEO of The Akshaya Patra Foundation USA – a non-profit organization whose mission is to address childhood hunger and to promote education for underserved children in India.
Though I talk to brands day-in day-out about how to build their brand in a digital age this conversation was not part of my work. Akshaya Patra is very close to my heart given its cause and I have been supporting it for many years now. I was first introduced to this organization by my father. One early morning on one of our trips to Jaipur he took me to visit the Akshaya Patra kitchen facility on the outskirts of Jaipur where I learnt all about their mission and work. When I was told they are looking for a Brand Marketer to help them spread awareness of their brand I jumped on the opportunity. I often think of my work as something that is useful to corporations and even consumers but sometimes I lack the sense of meaning in it. In fact if Honda is selling more cars or Heineken is selling more beer because of me it’s not only NOT saving lives it may even contribute to the opposite. Today I felt I was a lot more alive and excited about helping Akshaya Patra build their brand because hunger is brutal and no human, let alone child, should have to suffer from hunger when we live in a world of abundance.
Normally, my energy level starts to sag a bit by the afternoon on days I am fasting but today I felt as if the feeling of hunger is exactly what I needed to understand what millions of children go through every day and why in addition to reminding myself about it through periodic fasting I also want to contribute any skill I posses to the betterment of this cause.
Emily and I talked about Akshaya Patra’s vision, current projects and heir growth over the years but what struck me most is how little it takes to feed a child. Your $0.12 can feed a poor child in India! Yes, $0.12. That’s less pennies than you would find lying on the ground if you walked around a mall. That’s feeding about 33 children (!) for the cost of one of your Starbucks drinks. Think about it for a minute. I am not saying that you should stop drinking your Starbucks. I am trying to put things into perspective so while consuming your next Starbucks you “buy another cup” for 33 children whose filled stomachs will give you at least as much satisfaction as your caffeine rush if not more.
The government of India provides grains to Akshaya Patra to cook these meals in their facilities which comes out to a government subsidy of $0.07 per meal. Combined with your $0.12 those $0.19 cents cover the cost of an entire meal in India. A $10 donation per month could feed four children 235 school meals a year. I don’t even want to begin counting all the times in a month I waste $10 on things I don’t need…and here I am talking about feeding four children, giving them a chance to a better future and potentially even keeping them alive because of that.
Akshaya Patra began as a pilot program feeding 1,500 children daily in five schools. Today they feed more than 1.4 million in over 10,661 government schools. They employ 5,800 employees to prepare and distribute the meals every day. With an aggressive goal of serving 5 million children by 2020 I sincerely hope I can be a drop in that bucket.
It’s hard to grasp the extent of how privileged we are and yet we keep complaining. I understand that everything needs to be seen in context and we cannot “buy” our guilt away by donating money. But even then I am sure each one of us has plenty of room in their daily lives to be more mindful of what we do and say and feel a sense of gratitude. Just to give you a few thought starters:
- Try not to waste food on your plate. Take only as much as you can eat and have a second helping if you need to.
- Ask yourself if you really need to complain about the food someone cooks for you when you should be happy that they made it for you in the first place.
- Don’t gobble down your food. Relish it.
- Stop fussing about feeding your child organic avocados and whole grain quinoa. Let them be a child and eat some sand at the playground. A little bit of compassion will go much farther than that green poo.
- When you see someone in need, suspend your judgement and do something nice for them, even if it’s small.