Swabhiman Bhoj: Nourishing and Transforming Lives One Rupee at a Time

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Indu Mehta is the President, Corporate Communications and CMD’s Office.

According to the Global Hunger Index Report 2023, India is ranked 111 out of 125 countries. India finds itself among 40 nations classified as ‘serious’ on the scale of global hunger, highlighting a pressing concern for food security. The latest report reveals India’s overall GHI score to be 28.7, calculated on a 100-point scale. A higher score indicates a poorer performance by the country in addressing hunger and malnutrition.

While access to quality and nutritious food is considered a basic right, it remains a distant reality for millions of people. For many, a simple meal consisting of a bowl of rice with a spoonful of dal, twice a day, is a luxury. Some cannot even afford this bare minimum and often go to bed starving. These challenges are exacerbated by a variety of factors, including the burgeoning population, and rising costs of living, making it increasingly difficult for households to provide nutritious meals to their families.

Our project ‘Swabhiman Bhoj’ originated from the growing need to address food insecurity and malnutrition in different parts of Rajasthan. The initiative is not just about providing food but restoring self-respect and upholding the dignity of those in need, irrespective of their background. It has been instrumental in aiding the community in addressing the pressing issue of food insecurity.

In a world where economic disparities persist, and the gap between the privileged and underprivileged seems insurmountable, initiatives that bridge the gap become beacons of hope.

One such impactful initiative is the provision of one rupee meals for the underprivileged. This modest sum, equivalent to a very small fraction of a dollar, holds the potential to make a significant difference in the lives of those struggling with hunger.

Our project ‘Swabhiman Bhoj’ originated from the growing need to address food insecurity and malnutrition in different parts of Rajasthan. Dedicated to minimising the existing nutritional gap, Jawahar Foundation (the CSR initiative of LNJ Bhilwara Group) under the leadership of Riju Jhunjhunwala launched this progressive and benevolent programme to provide wholesome, nutritious, and hygienic meals for one rupee only. The initiative is not just about providing food but restoring self-respect and upholding the dignity of those in need, irrespective of their background.

Our initiative, Swabhiman Bhoj, has been instrumental in aiding the community in addressing the pressing issue of food insecurity.  However, it proved invaluable in the post-pandemic period when the majority of the population faced challenges rebuilding their lives after the long interruption. As one of the most impacted States in terms of deaths due to starvation, post-pandemic, Rajasthan was in critical need for assistance. We supplied 60,000 food packages to the needy under this programme on the request of the Bhilwara and Ajmer administrations.

In tandem with providing affordable and nutritious meals, we are committed to raising awareness about healthy eating habits. We have implemented various awareness programmes to educate the community on the importance of balanced nutrition and its impact on overall health. These programmes include workshops, seminars, and distribution of food packets and informational pamphlets.

The food served at our Swabhiman Bhoj centres is prepared and cooked with utmost care and in hygienic conditions to ensure the health and well-being of the people. We procure vegetables and grains from local vendors and farmers to support and strengthen their livelihoods. Even the food is cooked by locals to foster a sense of community engagement and contribute to the economic empowerment of the region.

We are currently operating in Ajmer, Banswara, Bhilwara and Jaipur, and have served close to 5 lakh meals in just nine months. Our community kitchens are a continuous activity. The impact and positive response we received from these regions have encouraged us to consider expanding our community kitchen services to other cities in Rajasthan.

We have been actively evaluating the inclusion of new regions or States in the Swabhiman Bhoj initiative. We continue to assess potential areas that would benefit from the community kitchen service.

In tandem with providing affordable and nutritious meals, we are committed to raising awareness about healthy eating habits. We have implemented various awareness programmes to educate the community on the importance of balanced nutrition and its impact on overall health. These programmes include workshops, seminars, and distribution of food packets and informational pamphlets.

We take pride in our non-discriminatory approach to ensure that every individual, regardless of their income or social status, is entitled to a wholesome meal at just Re 1. This encompasses labourers, daily wage earners, travellers, street vendors, students, and others. Through this initiative, we recognise the importance of catering to the nutritional needs of those who may face economic challenges.

We have signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) on six kitchens with the Government of Rajasthan under ‘Annapurna Rasoi’, reflecting our commitment to provide essential support to the local community in line with the government’s vision – Annapurna Rasoi Yojana – the Rajasthan Government’s dreams that, ‘No One Sleeps Hungry’.

In the heart of Patel Nagar, Bhilwara, resides Pradeep Telni, a hardworking labourer at a local tea hotel. His life, intertwined with the challenges of a meagre income and a family battling health issues, took a transformative turn when he came to know of Swabhiman Bhoj. Pradeep’s daily struggle was not just confined to earning a livelihood at the tea stall, it extended to the well-being of his wife, who was incapacitated due to health issues. With a meagre monthly salary of Rs 6000, which also covered his accommodation, Pradeep found himself in a perpetual financial crunch, often running out of money for daily expenses.

Driven by faith in God and the desire to provide for his family, Pradeep learned about Swabhiman Bhoj through word of mouth. The prospect of pure and tasty food available for just one rupee at Gajadhar Mansingh’s Dharamshala near the railway station seemed almost too good to be true. Intrigued, he decided to investigate and discovered Swabhiman Bhoj Rasoi. This initiative marked a turning point in Pradeep’s life. No longer did he have to endure the pangs of hunger while working at the tea stall or compromise his daughter’s sleep to prepare meals. The hot and delicious food served at Swabhiman Bhoj became a source of sustenance and relief for Pradeep.

The availability of affordable meals allowed Pradeep to allocate his savings for his daughter’s education and his wife’s medicines. The burden of financial stress was alleviated, and the family’s self-respect was restored through dignified access to nutritious and wholesome food. Pradeep expresses heartfelt gratitude to Jawahar Foundation for initiating the Swabhiman Bhoj kitchen.

We also started the ‘Swabhiman Jal’ initiative to provide clean and safe drinking water to the people residing in the remote regions of Rajasthan. One thousand four hundred and forty registered community members are benefitting from the Swabhiman Jal Water ATMs at Banswara and Bhilwara. This demonstrates the growing awareness and acceptance of the initiative within the community. So far, a remarkable 2,44,715 litres of safe and clean water have been dispensed through the Swabhiman Jal Water ATMs. This accomplishment underscores our contribution to addressing water-related challenges in the region.

Swabhiman Bhoj’s journey of helping people in need and giving back to society is close to the heart of Riju Jhunjhunwala. He became a social activist at an early age; taking inspiration from his grandfather and his father. It has been his dream to do something for his family’s place of origin – Rajasthan – and continue the legacy of supporting the communities ahead.

 

Through this initiative, we are helping to build a healthier India where food is not a luxury but a fundamental right. Food insecurity can have far-reaching consequences, impeding an individual’s physical progress, as well as a widespread impact on emotional and psychological well-being. Access to nutritious food is essential to life. It provides nourishment for the body, fuel for the mind, and solace for the soul. Nobody should be deprived of it, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

Looking at the massive success of this programme, we also started the ‘Swabhiman Jal’ initiative to provide clean and safe drinking water to the people residing in the remote regions of Rajasthan. One thousand four hundred and forty registered community members are benefitting from the Swabhiman Jal Water ATMs at Banswara and Bhilwara. This demonstrates the growing awareness and acceptance of the initiative within the community.

So far, a remarkable 2,44,715 litres of safe and clean water have been dispensed through the Swabhiman Jal Water ATMs. This accomplishment underscores our contribution to addressing water-related challenges in the region.

As we navigate an ever-changing world, the importance of initiatives like the One Rupee Meal and Water ATMs cannot be overstated. Beyond addressing immediate hunger, we lay the groundwork for sustainable solutions by emphasising the significance of community involvement, nutritional awareness, hygienic drinking water and the inherent dignity of every individual.

Another such initiative by Jawahar Foundation – Swabhiman Water ATM – has helped Vineet Kumar of Banera village of Bhilwara who has emerged as a symbol of good health in his family. With a 65-year-old retired teacher father – Suresh Chandra, Vineet has always prioritised his father’s health, often accompanying him to the hospital for advice. When Suresh Chandra and his daughter experienced toothache and pyorrhoea, the doctor recommended pure RO water due to the poor levels of TDS in their village. Vineet, who was planning to install an RO system at home, came to know from his friend that the Jawahar Foundation has installed a water ATM in Banera village, which provides pure water at an affordable price.

Choosing Swabhiman Jal Water ATM brought about a positive change in the health of his family. Today, the whole family is using this water. Vineet has become a strong advocate for the benefits of high-quality water from Swabhiman Water ATMs, ensuring that his community is well-informed about these benefits.

As we navigate an ever-changing world, the importance of initiatives like the One Rupee Meal and Water ATMs cannot be overstated. Beyond addressing immediate hunger, we lay the groundwork for sustainable solutions by emphasising the significance of community involvement, nutritional awareness, hygienic drinking water and the inherent dignity of every individual.

We have also undertaken Swabhiman Shiksha, which has benefited over 20,000 children so far and has managed to increase public school attendance by 23 per cent.

In conclusion, providing one rupee meals for the underprivileged is a silver lining, a reminder that positive change can begin with the smallest of contributions. In the fight against basic necessities, these humble initiatives stand tall, showcasing the transformative power of collective compassion and the belief to make a world of difference.