Hunger and illiteracy are two challenges that plague our country like nothing else. Identifying these two issues and working to bring change is a volunteer-based organisation The Robin Hood Army (RHA). RHA volunteers across cities and countries get surplus food from restaurants nearby and serve them in local slums, homeless families, orphanages, patients from public hospitals and old age homes. The volunteers or Robins, as they like to be called, are dedicated individuals giving their best to bring change.
SheThePeople.TV got in touch with Aarushi Batra who co-founded the Robin Hood Army along with Neel Ghose in 2014. Aarushi started up when she was 24. She loved the idea shared by Neel, her colleague from the University and decided to give it a start. Some edited snippets from our conversation with Aarushi Batra.
How did you come up with the idea of the organisation?
This idea was actually conceived by my co-founder, Neel Ghose. He served as a volunteer for the Re-food programme (distributing excess food from restaurants to the homeless) in Lisbon in the summer of 2014, and wanted to do something similar in India. On the first night of our distribution, we gave food to a hundred people, and it felt conflicting. We realised how deep the problem of hunger is.
What are the notable challenges you faced while setting up the academy that you hadn’t accounted for?
Robin Hood Academy is a bridge between the kids on the streets and schools. We impart basic primary education and use that as a tool to condition the minds of the kids and parents that studying/sending your kid to a school is paramount. The biggest challenge we faced was to push the parents to get their kids admitted into schools. Since we are a voluntary organisation, making sure we had dedicated Robins who could keep up with the kids’ curriculum was a challenge.
The biggest challenge we faced was to push the parents to get their kids admitted into schools.
What resistance did you face, if any, when it came to collecting surplus, or from those whom you were distributing it to?
We have been very lucky with all the support from restaurants, caterers, homemakers, food banks with surplus food. It’s been so fantastic seeing the importance people have started putting on avoiding food wastage.
However, in our initial days, we did face challenges like getting restaurants on board. They weren’t sure where the food would be going to and it took a little bit of convincing and showing them pictures and selfies, we took during our drives. We invited them for our Sunday distributions and they knew exactly where the food was going and how happy people were. This really helped.
As a society, how can we encourage people to be more mindful of food waste and encourage thoughtful consumption and distribution of surplus amongst the needy?
The starting point would be to make sure the food is perfectly edible can be a meal for someone who needs it most. It could be the kid who always asks you for money at red lights. Contributing to mid-day meal schemes is also a good idea. It improves attendance and concentration among children in government schools.
The starting point would be to make sure the food is perfectly edible can be a meal for someone who needs it most.
Ask your restaurants (local eateries)/ caterers to get involved and make sure their surplus food goes towards meals for families in a nearby basti. Lastly, we should believe that our limited time and resources can also make a huge difference.
Were there any challenges that you faced, specific to the fact that you are a woman, especially given you began with night distribution of food?
I am very proud of how the organisation has shaped up. We have approximately 50% of our chapters being led by women and would be happy to say that both men and women Robins are extremely supportive and always empowering each other.
We have approximately 50% of our chapters being led by women.
With night distributions, yes, we might have to be more careful and every city has their mandates for it. We make sure all our Robins feel safe and only attend those drives at the time they are comfortable with.
Why did you choose the name Robin Hood Army, how do you feel this name resonates with your vision? What are the notable achievements of the RHA so far?
The name came from ‘Robin Hood’ who used to steal from the rich and give it to the poor. While we’re not stealing, the idea is to make sure we serve our fellow citizens who do not have the same means economically probably you and I. Our most notable achievement till date has been the 10.5 million smiles, blessings and love we’ve received.
The name came from ‘Robin Hood’ who used to steal from the rich and give it to the poor. While we’re not stealing, the idea is to make sure we serve our fellow citizens who do not have the same means economically as probably you and I.
How big is the Robin Hood Army now, and what are the areas you feel you need to expand into?
We currently are in 103 cities across the world and are a family of 22,000 Robins. Academy currently is in 30 cities across the world, we have 27K students studying with us and over 750 kids have been admitted into schools.
We are currently working on eradicating food wastage and hunger along with imparting education which is essential for nation building.
Apart from food distribution, the RHA is also into other initiatives like the distribution of clothes, books, etc. What are your focus areas for distribution?
Our focus areas for distribution are families on the streets, shelter homes, orphanages, old age homes. For us, it’s about the time we spend with every single person we meet. It’s not just a handover. It’s all about getting them comfortable to talk and interact. Because of the bonds we’ve been able to create, the cities are able to set up health camps, blanket drives, clothes drives, Aadhaar card drives. Having conversations and understanding them is an extremely important part of what we do. It’s now a ready network of 22,000 individuals who implement real-time solutions for problems that plague our society.
How can we, as a society, develop a social conscience to give time and effort, rather than just money to the needy?
We should believe that our limited time and resources can also make a huge difference. It doesn’t have to be something super big, just small gestures can be greatly moving.
How do you see the Robin Hood Army growing?
Our target is to have a Robin Hood Army and Robin Hood Academy in every part of the world. And have a team that always puts the mission first.
Rachna Chandira is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv