Khaana Chahiye – Helping communities fight against hunger amid pandemic

“Amita bhabhi cannot work from home, her work doesn’t give her this privilege” says Sujata Sawant tai – an activist who has been working with the community in Buntar Bhavan, Qureshi Nagar, Kurla for the last 6 years. Amita, like several other women of the community, are essentially home helps. With the lockdown and its restrictions on travel, they’ve been asked to not come for work in Mumbai’s high-rise buildings and societies, until the restrictions are lifted.

Corona ho ya na ho mujhe toh paaviar ke liye; bahar nikalna hi padta hai, paarivar ko khilana jo hai” (If I need to feed my family, I have to step out irrespective of Corona),” rued Amita. Her family consists of two daughters and a son. She asks, “Maine sunna hai lockdown jo hai wo kuchh aur din chalega? Kya ye sach hai?” (I’ve heard this lockdown is going to get extended. It is true?)

The pandemic has exposed the deep class divisions and inequality in terms of access to food, especially as livelihoods and incomes that have begun to dry up, especially amongst those in the informal economy.

During last year’s nationwide stay at home order, Sujata tai had reached out to Khaana Chahiye – then, a relief organization that was working to meet the immediate, lockdown-induced food demands of the homeless, migrant workers, daily wage laborers, and other vulnerable populations in the city of Mumbai.

Activists like Sujata tai, who are on ground mobilisers, have been working relentlessly for the community settled in Qureshi Nagar. They have been working with young children in the community for years now, successfully reducing the school dropout rate under their organization Noble Foundation. Tai got in touch with Neeraj Shetye, programme manager, for the relief operation, due to the demand of food in the communities in Kurla. Since these communities had the basic apparatus for cooking, after the lockdown was lifted, the food packets were converted into dry ration.

As Khaana Chahiye grew and continued its operations post the lockdown, Sujata tai with her team at Noble Foundation, supported their Hunger Map drive by helping map the hunger pockets across Mumbai.

The Noble Foundation has been working in communities across Mumbai, helping women to establish their livelihoods. They’ve adopted the Self-Help Group (SHG) model implemented by Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to mobilize women and train them in relevant courses ensuring their participation in the workforce.

With the current break the chain order, Khaana Chahiye’s on ground team has re-started their operation. “Just like last year’s lockdown, the food demand is far higher than the supply,” said Parth Shukla, who has been going on field to assess the situation. Like Parth, several ground volunteers and community leaders had similar intelligence to share.

Khaana Chahiye is ramping up its kitchen across the city and expanding its operations to Thane and Navi Mumbai. Along with providing cooked meals and ration kits, one of Khaana Chahiye’s goals is supporting beneficiaries in their venture to build sustainable livelihoods. Under this flagship, Khaana Chahiye decided to work with Sujata tai’s SHG led by women in Buntar Bhavan community.

This vertical is driven by Khaana Chahiye’s on-ground volunteers and Neeraj along with Sujata tai’s understanding of complex community dynamics. Her inputs helped identify vulnerable households in the Buntar Bhavan and streamline the process of immediate food demand and subsequently setting up a complete kitchen.

This community kitchen functions out of the narrow gullies (lanes) of the slums, with the aid of women and children from the community. Every participant assists in cleaning, cutting, cooking and finally packing the meals. Khaana Chahiye Foundation compensates the women for the hours of work they put in. The kitchen set up is instrumental in making these women aware that they are stronger when they act together.

During unprecedented crisis such as the one we face today, administrations across the world take time to organize themselves and initiate relief operations.

In India, the first task of the administration has been to manage the healthcare system. The administration is stabilizing the labour force/informal sector by making provision for food and shelter. At the same time, the battle against the pandemic has kindled our desire to innovate, learn and find ways to connect and support one another. We have put technology to great use to achieve this. A platform has been set to report hunger in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) as it grapples with another wave of the Covid-19 pandemic. Our aim to combat hunger starts with identifying critical pockets of the city that need immediate relief. Khaana Chahiye is gearing itself to serve the vulnerable population with cooked meals or groceries. Together, we will fight the battle against hunger.

Mithila Naik-Satam