One of the little girls came up to me and said ‘Didi, aap log roz aaoge toh hum khaana khaake soyenge’ (If you come every day, we won’t have to sleep on empty stomachs).Juhi Shahi, member, Robin Hood Army
Skipping a meal for ‘clean-eating’ might be a trend among the urban elite, but a large number of city dwellers go hungry without a choice. Fighting this gap is a unique band of youngsters – Enter the Robin Hood Army, a network of volunteers spanning 48 cities in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Philippines.
Their mission? To feed empty stomachs. Their Incentive? The smiles.
Almost 200 million people sleep hungry every day in India. This is our way of fighting that. Even if we can make 1% of a difference, it will be worth it.Aarushi Batra, member, Robin Hood Army
The Robins, as they’re called, go out every weekend to distribute food among those in need. However, this Independence Day, they took up a bigger challenge, #Mission1Million – to feed a million people across India and Pakistan and fight for independence from hunger.
The seed for this was sown 7 years back. One of the co-founders Anand Sinha recalls:
Neel, my co-founder, and I were working in Hyderabad. We were leaving our first job and as a farewell celebration we took a bunch of underprivileged kids out for a movie and a meal. And since then, we realised that we want to bring these smiles to every face possible and in order to make a bigger impact, we’ll have to rope in as many people as we can get.
The Army had a very humble beginning.
“We went on our first drive in August 2014, when six of us went to the flyovers near IIT Delhi to distribute food to the people living under them.”
From 6 Robins in 1 city, the Army has grown to 10,350 Robins in 48 cities.
The Robin Hood Army does not accept monetary contributions, but instead rely on sourcing food from hotels willing to contribute and logistical support from corporations who want to lend a hand.
We don’t need money for the work we do here. We are content with our lives and we want to make sure these kids are as well.Aarushi Batra, a Robin
On Independence Day, as part of the Robin Hood Army’s #Mission1Million, around 60 Robins travelled to different parts of Delhi, distributing food in slums, shelter homes and village clusters. The Quint went along one with one of the teams to a small farmers’ cluster near Mayur Vihar.
Seeing the cars drive in, faces lit up and a sea of chatter filled the air. As the Robins stepped out of their vehicles, the kids were visibly excited to see a break in their routine.
As the Robins begin distributing the cupcakes and patties they had brought along, one of the elderly residents of the community tells us,
If you take the food that people throw away in hotels and distribute it among the poor, you’ll feed some stomachs instead of letting it go to waste. Yahan jo bachhe, buddhe sab hain, voh bhi ache se khaa lenge toh kitna acha hoga, hai na? (It’ll be so nice if all the people here, the kids and the elderly alike, are well-fed.)Urmila, a resident of the farmers’ cluster
A little shy to mingle, 9-year-old Rahul sits on the sidelines, watching the piles of food boxes the visitors have brought along.
“What do you eat everyday?” we ask Rahul.
“And what’s your favourite food?”
“I love ice cream. The ice cream bhaiya comes at 3 pm on some of the days, but I rarely get to have it.”
The Robins did not have any ice cream with them, but Rahul was happy with the muffins, sandwiches and chocolates that they got for him and his friends.
A 4-year-old with heavily-kohled eyes comes rushing and points towards the camera. When asked if she wants to be clicked, she nods her head vigorously, sticks her tongue out and poses. Only to be chided by her mother to smile properly.
“I liked the cake the most today. I only had cake once before on my birthday last month.”
To make the day more special for the kids, the Robins played cheerful music from their cars, and danced along with them.
Two 10-year-olds, Sangeeta and Rani, perform a dance routine they picked up in school for Independence Day celebrations.
They want to be teachers when they grow up. When asked why, they say, “Teachers are very nice, they educate everyone, give them things and make them good human beings.”
In between the distribution of food, the Robins also interacted with the parents of the children and encouraged them to continue their kids’ education.
Sangeeta’s mother Aarti Devi wants to make sure her daughter’s dreams come true. She will not let them feel any less fortunate than others, Aarti tells us.
“My younger daughters want to become teachers. I want them to work as they like. When it comes to getting them married, if the boy’s family has a problem with them working, we’ll find another family that doesn’t. My eldest daughter liked to sew but she can’t go out and work since her marriage. But I won’t let that happen to my other two daughters,” says the mother of five.
The Robins say that their involvement with such communities is not a one-off phenomenon.
We’re not just giving them muffins and sandwiches to provide one meal, we’re giving them bags of grains which will help them in the long run. For us, we’re spending just a small bit of our day doing this, but for them, it’s a large chunk of happiness.Abhishek Anand, a Robin
This happiness, the smiles and the touching stories of these families is what keeps the Robins going. It’s what makes them eke out time every weekend to go on distribution drives.
Some of these kids are so hungry, that when we distribute food, a six or seven-year-old eats twice as much as a grown up would. It’s so touching and heart-wrenching at the same time.Juhi Shahi, a Robin
Over the course of #Mission1Million, the Robin Hood Army fed 1,326,658 people in India and Pakistan. That’s 1.3 million people!
It was the Robin Hood Army’s way of celebrating 70 years of our independence. And reminding all of us that the goal of freedom from hunger is far off yet.
As the Robins say, “This is only 1% done.”