It was the summer of 2015 when the Marathwada region of Maharashtra witnessed severe drought conditions leading to a water and an agrarian crisis in the region.
Here, droughts are a common occurrence, but since it was the fourth consecutive year of drought, the situation worsened.
With a reported rainfall deficit of 40 percent, the years 2014 and 2015 saw a drinking water crisis in the area. “The pain and hardships of the people, especially from rural areas, worsened. The crisis was evident when I saw some people struggling for meals,” says Atul Ajmera, an entrepreneur from Osmanabad.
A native of the region, Atul lived near the government civil hospital and frequently observed people waiting outside for patients to get treated.
Pained by the plight
“The relatives and friends of the patients, who were waiting outside the hospital, were often asking for roti or rice to feed themselves. They were struggling for their meals while also bearing the stress and burden of their relative’s health,” Atul says and adds, “This civil hospital is the only government hospital in the district. These people are mainly farmers or farm labourers, often travelling from remote areas. So, if they spend time with the patients, they lose out on their daily wages. Plus, there is the additional burden of travelling to and from the hospital.”
Atul says that in order to cut their expenses the relatives of the patients would “spend nights in hospital premises and would need to spend nearly Rs 1,000 a day to buy meals”.
Affected by their struggle, Atul decided to take it upon himself to provide meals for them. He first approached a few friends and relatives seeking contributions for the cause. “I managed to gather 30 people who agreed to pay Rs 1,000 a month. I was convinced that if I could continue this initiative for three months until the monsoons arrived their hardships would reduce,” he says.
Today, five years later, Atul continues to provide food services to the needy.
The beginning of Annapurna
“Four of my friends joined me in my endeavour and we named the initiative Annapurna. We serve food to about 300 people in a day. After initial contributions, people started approaching us with donations. However, we needed a consistent source of revenue to keep the cause afloat,” Atul says.
The social worker goes on to detail how they now receive a steady source of contributions. He explains, “We receive donations from individuals during their birth and wedding anniversaries or even remembrance for death anniversaries as well. Some people approach us out of their own accord wanting to donate for the social cause.”
Atul adds that the contributions made by the individuals get announced at the place where meals are served. The donors’ names are also published on their social media pages along with the amount of donations made during the day. “This helps us publicise the contributions by the donors, reassuring them that their donations are going towards a good cause,” he says.
No easy feat
However, a few technical hurdles also needed to be crossed by the organisation. Dnanoba Kale, one of the volunteers of Annapurna, who has been associated with the cause for the past four years, says they have overcome many challenges during this time. “There were times when we had fewer donations but the number of people served remained the same. The quality and quantity of food could not be compromised. So we dipped into our own savings,” Dnanoba says.
The volunteer adds that procuring water for so many people along with cooking for them made it necessary to coordinate with sources to ensure they regularly received supplies. “There was also a need for a bigger space, which had to be near the hospital. So, we negotiated for a space that was a few hundred meters away,” Dnanoba said.
Annapurna has also helped migrant workers affected due to the lockdown owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We provided tiffins to about 700 people a day during the lockdown. Most of them were migrants. The costs escalated with safety measures to be put in place and also the disposable boxes. During this time, we also continued our services to the needy,” Dnanoba says.
Speaking to The Better India, Atul says that he feels a deep sense of satisfaction by helping people not stay hungry. “These people are not necessarily poor. It’s because of certain situations in their life that they are helpless,” he says and adds, “We cannot help them monetarily. But if we can manage to help them not worry about food and water, I believe, it eases their pain just a little.”