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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Srishti Annam – Together, We Can.

Ever thought of what the largest killer of Indian people is? Road accidents? Heart diseases? Smoking? AIDS? Think again. These killers put together pale in front of the hunger problem. Every day, more than 7000 people directly die of hunger and malnutrition in India. This is about 5 deaths per minute. As per FAO's hunger report, 230 million people in India were undernourished as of 2005. And the numbers have gone up since. India’s Global Hunger Index (GHI) is calculated in 2009 as 23.9 (less than 5 is good, above 20 is alarming). Of the 84 countries that have GHI above 5, India is ranked 65th, i.e., only 19 other countries in the world are worse off than India. Many sub-Saharan African nations fare much better than India in terms of GHI. In terms of sheer numbers, India has the maximum number of hungry people in the world. About half of the hunger deaths are of children under the age of ten.

The first among the Millennium Development Goals set for India is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger. Since the country’s independence in 1947, there have been significant efforts to solve the hunger problem in India. Midday meals in thousands of government schools saved many a child from malnutrition. Places of worship of Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, etc have been offering free food to their visitors for generations. The Green Revolution and other movements tremendously improved food production and distribution. Many welfare schemes established by central, state and local governments attempted to take food to the poorest sections of the society.

Several of these efforts have had impact, but clearly the problem is far from solved. The dismal statistics quoted above are of today, not the past. We believe that this failure is because the tools chosen by the governments, science & technology research, religious institutions and others to fight against hunger are not adequate and are marred by issues like corruption, a very leaky bucket, time delays and intolerance. Furthermore, hunger is the root of many other ills in the society, and few existing solutions holistically address this negative spiral of hunger.

We started the Srishti Annam project with the insight that a crucial component in the fight against hunger has been largely overlooked. This is the component of the Community. The byline of Srishti Annam is “Together, we can.” Srishti Annam is an innovative, community-centric solution to hunger alleviation that not only offers immediate relief to hungry people, but also a holistic, long-term and scalable means for reducing hunger in India.

The goal of Srishti Annam project can be simply stated. Communities should be educated, inspired and assisted to take responsibility for their hungry, to say yes to a hunger-free India.

Our focus is the poorest of the poor in the community, people who simply have no means to feed themselves, e.g., destitute, old people, helpless children, physically and mentally challenged persons. Srishti Annam wants to make every community in India develop a deep awareness that this marginalized section’s hunger is everyone’s problem in the community, and the ill-effects of ignoring this are many.

Srishti Annam’s model is to work through a network of locally-managed Community Feeding Centers. The first Annam center has now been operational for 40 months, having served over 350,000 free meals, worked with the destitute, skilled many, and employed several of them. The model to scale has come from our immense hands-on experience in the last 40 months.

Imagine a small community of 10000-25000 people. Akin to a public library, we advocate the presence of a community feeding center that can serve 50-100 people. The center is a pleasant, welcoming place run by the community, for the community. It will lovingly serve free, sumptuous lunch to anyone that cannot fend for themselves in the community, without regard to religion, caste, gender, age, etc. It is open 365 days of the year. Volunteers from the local community, who are identified, trained, and managed by Srishti Annam, run the feeding centers. Nutritious, wholesome food is prepared in hygienic, low-cost kitchens run by Srishti Annam, typically one kitchen for every 10-50 feeding centers, and transported to feeding centers on time by Srishti Annam.

Srishti Annam feeding centers don’t just alleviate immediate hunger. They are, by design, a long-term, holistic and scalable solution to India’s hunger problem, because they address complex and subtle issues connected with hunger. They provide a place for the destitute and the local community to emotionally relate to each other, to establish trust, to reduce alienation and resentment that most destitute suffer from today. The centers create a time window to understand and transform. They act as hubs to connect the destitute with many service organizations for improving health (vaccinations), hygiene, substance abuse, courtesy, dignity, self-respect, literacy, gender empowerment, etc. For the community, especially the children, Srishti Annam feeding centers provide an excellent opportunity to develop compassion, responsibility & a service mentality. The community model of Srishti Annam solution leverages a strong cultural sentiment in India, that it is a privilege to feed the poor and hungry.

Our goal for scaling Srishti Annam is to reach 100,000 people being fed everyday across India in the next 5 years.

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