Spreading Smiles In Meal Packets
Anchal Sharma from Delhi is feeding hundreds of slum kids everyday while she fights third stage breast cancer
Anchal Sharma has always been a fighter. The bright, vivacious smile on her face belies the tribulations that she has faced in her life. One of the reasons behind her smile is the hope and happiness that she brings to around 200 slum kids every day, with her freshly prepared food packets, distributed through her NGO, Meals of Happiness. These kids are from Delhi slums and streets belonging to poor families, mostly of labourers.
“I’m helping slum and street kids in the age group of 0-15 years. They are children of labourers, who hardly earn INR 100 to 150 per day to feed their family but it’s not enough to help a family of six. Poverty is linked with negative conditions such as sub-standard housing, homelessness, inadequate nutrition, and food insecurity, inadequate child care, unsafe neighbourhoods, and under-resourced school… adversely impacting our nation’s children,” says Anchal.
She has known poverty and adversity very closely. The daughter of an auto-rickshaw driver, she lived with her family of six in one room. Her father lost all his savings which he had invested in a school van. Desperation turned him into an alcoholic and he would often physically abuse her mother. Her mother’s attempts to work hard to feed the family of six with her meagre income failed too. They came to the brink of starvation, getting by on just chapatis and chilli powder. Anchal and her brother had to drop out of school in class eight and nine respectively to start working.
With her diligence and eagerness to learn, she overcame the lack of academic qualifications and shone in whatever she did. After a few job switches, she started working as a real estate agent for a firm and excelled at it. However, after being duped of INR two and a half lakh worth of incentives, she joined another real estate agency as a receptionist, beginning afresh. Soon she began working as a broker for the same agency and shifted her family to a rented apartment.
She supported her younger sister’s decision to marry a man against her family’s wishes. Five months later, her sister was murdered by her husband. Anchal fought tooth and nail on her own, despite threats and financial restraints to get justice for her sister. Due to her perseverance, the accused was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. Deeply impacted by the incident and pressurized by the relatives, her family quickly married her off. It was an unhappy marriage in which she was constantly physically and mentally abused for money. She divorced her husband after three months of marriage.
“My circumstances transformed me into the woman I am today. I wish to eradicate hunger and malnourishment among slum kids. It is this purpose that makes me stronger by the day.”Anchal Sharma
Concentrating on her career, she founded her own real estate agency. She supported the treatment when her mother was diagnosed with a cabbage worm in her brain and her father with tuberculosis. All her savings went down the drain when the dream home she had started building for her family was demolished by the municipality.
Amidst all this turmoil, she did not pay much attention to a growing lump in her breast. In 2017, one of the biggest blows came in the shape of third-stage breast cancer.
Undaunted, she thought to herself, “But I am yet to live my life. This can’t be it.” Through the several chemotherapy sessions and surgeries, she tried to maintain some semblance of a normal life. “I used to dress up even for my chemo sessions, because why not? It was a difficult journey but I refused to live through it with fear.”
During the treatment, after a chemo session, a few kids begged her for money at a traffic signal. She offered them food, which they gladly agreed to. She accompanied them to a nearby restaurant where some of the other patrons left when they saw the slum kids eating at the same place as them. This affected Anchal greatly. “That afternoon inspired me to do something for these kids, and I started an NGO by the name of Meals of Happiness (MOH),” shares Anchal. “We didn’t have a kitchen or any proper set-up to cook food. So we started cooking in our drawing-room. It’s been two good years now.” Her initiative gained recognition and she was able to feed 200 kids every day. Donations have been irregular and most of her savings and salary go into feeding these kids. “On special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries or festivals, people would donate money to feed over 2,000 kids. To date, MOH has successfully accomplished meal distribution to more than 1 lakh people.
On many occasions, MOH has raised funds for the medical needs of people living in slums and has also helped poor girls get married,” she adds. She has been awarded ‘Nidar Hamesha’ by the doctors of the Max Hospital for her impressive initiative
MOH has decided to start providing milk to the malnourished slum kids instead of the meals as milk is full of important nutrition and serving them in steel tumblers ensures reuse which is not possible in case of meals. While her cancer treatment will continue for another five years, what she really wishes for is to have a kitchen set-up for the NGO which will greatly boost the initiative. “As we drive the fight against malnutrition forward, the goal of ensuring nutrition could easily be missed because of the commonly held assumption that hunger and nutrition are the same thing. This must be challenged because it privileges action on hunger over nutrition. Our aim is to feed at least 5000 underprivileged every day in the next 3 years,” she avers. “Today, I am grateful for every hurdle life threw my way. My circumstances transformed me into the woman I am today. I care for the society and wish to eradicate hunger and malnourishment among slum kids. I have a purpose, and it is this purpose that makes me stronger by the day.”
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