Every morning, the Kalyan Railway Station in Mumbai is abuzz with activity.
Amid the usual crowds waiting to board the train and a sea of hawkers, each claiming to have the world’s best chai, you will find a sight that’s enough to make any passerby stop in their tracks.
Right beside the busy station, hundreds line up everyday, patiently waiting their turn to eat wholesome breakfast at a nominal price of Re 1. It’s a heartening scene that stands out amid the hustle of the city.
And at the helm of this campaign is Khwaish Foundation, which was started by trans woman Poonam amma with the motive to “help society in some way and give back”.
“Hunger is such a crisis today. We see this even during the time we beg. This hurt us deeply. We wanted to find a way to help these people in whatever way we could. And so I met with others from the trans community and put this idea forward,” Poonam amma says.
The breakfast is served by a network of over 5,000 trans persons, all of who work for the foundation, which has been working for the education and skill development of the poor, among its many activities, for the last two years.
Sameer Sheikh, secretary of the foundation, says the organisation started helping those in need in 2021 by initiating programmes to provide students with school kits, helping around 4,000 children across Maharashtra.
Once they saw how heart-rendering the experience was, they expanded operations to provide beauty parlour courses, tailoring courses, and computer classes for those who wished to upgrade their skills but did not have the resources to do so for free.
Meanwhile, Sameer tells The Better India, “Society often looks at the trans community with judgement, believing they can only ‘take things’ (like money) and never give anything in return. This is their way of giving back.”
A noble thought turns into a great initiative
Khwaish Foundation launched the food initiative on 6 September this year.
“We first thought about doing something in this capacity during the pandemic,” explains Sameer. “During the lockdown, we noticed that the plight of the poor was heartbreaking. They couldn’t even afford one square meal.”
To add to this, he says, people were jostling to get groceries and other supplies and he would often see how, when the rich and influential were in the same line as the poor, the latter would be pushed around and leave with nothing.
Poonam amma, the president of the foundation, came up with the idea of starting food at extremely subsidised costs.
Today, 5,000 trans persons are part of this initiative. Food is cooked and distributed to anyone who wishes to have a wholesome meal. The foundation relies on people’s donations and the rations that some give them, but they are essentially managing everything from their own pockets.
As Sameer explains, tasks are divided. The food is cooked by some community members, while some are involved in the serving.
Komal Kinnar, one of the members of the foundation, says, “We often noticed that people sleeping on railway stations were shivering. But we realised later that these people were shivering not because of the cold, but because they were hungry. And so we came up with this idea that does not distinguish between rich or poor.”
Sameer adds that while some people shower blessings on them for their nobility, there are others who criticise their work.
“But we have learnt to overlook it and keep doing what we are. People will always talk and problems will always be there. But you have to face it. That is the only solution,” he says.
On the first day they started, they witnessed a turnover of 150 people, while today the number has risen to 550. While breakfast is served for Rs 1, a lunch thali with dal, vegetable, rice and roti is served for Rs 10.
“We invite the poor to eat as much as they wish, but do not give parcels to take back,” says Sameer, adding that their motive is to ensure everyone has had their fill.
Poonam amma says, “We have to put in a lot of hard work, as we go to the markets asking people to contribute. This is not always easy. But if our help can make a difference, we will continue.”
Edited by Divya Sethu
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