Feed A Child (Night Feeding Programme)
Feed A Child
Feed a child, is the name of our latest project where volunteers and staff take to the streets and provide a nutritious, hot meal to the children (and their parents) living on the streets of Goa. As the families are working during the day, we head out late in the evening to ensure the children don't go to sleep on an empty stomach. Many of the small towns and tourist areas have families/groups of beggars who 'work', sit and sleep huddled next to the road, the children are often terribly malnourished, neglected and dirty, the dust and pollution engrained into their skin. These groups live hand to mouth through begging or selling trinkets or peanuts to passing tourists.
We are still in it's infancy and due to funding restrictions it is not currently a regular project, but with more support this will change, allowing us to help more children by giving them a good hot meal before they sleep.
Night Time Feedings (FEB 2012)
Working as a volunteer for Educators Trust I was recently asked whether I would like to help out at one of their night time feeding programmes. This would involve going to feed children and their parents that live on the street. The night that I was invited to go along Educators Trust were going to feed children that attended the day school at Inspiring Light where I had been volunteering so I would know the children, which would make it more personal.
Diego and Ian arranged to pick me up at 11.30pm and promised that they would deliver me back to my accommodation early the next morning. I was rather surprised at how late we would be feeding the children especially as they were all attending school the next day. It was explained to me that though I had visited the children on a dirt patch on a busy road where they “live”during the day, that they moved to another area for sleeping at night. These people live on the streets and do not even have the basic protection of a tent to shield them from the cold at night. So at night they move to sleep by shops or on the pavements by the shops in order to have some protection from the cold and the early morning fog that settles around all with a thick blanket of cold. Therefore they could not move to this area until the shops close. Oh what we all take for granted.
These people have very few possessions and certainly no material things. One of the most important items, which is treasured and is their lifesaver, is their one cooking pot. Sometimes this one pot will feed three or four families. When they are able to during the day they will cook some rice and dahl, this being the cheapest food to buy and cook. But they don’t always have the money to buy the ingredients. They obviously have no water so the water is fetched from the nearest river in order to cook the rice and the lentils. Sometimes the river is quite a distance from where they are staying during the day and is nearly always polluted and yet this is the water used to cook with. Sometimes the river is dry and then there is no water and that in turn means no cooking. The children of these families go to Inspiring Light where they do receive a cooked meal but most times that is the only decent meal they get sothe night feeding time is essential to these families.
When the families move from their “day” spot to go to their “night” spot they tie up their few possessions in a bundle and these are placed high in a tree to keep them safe and especially from the stray dogs that in turn are so hungry they tear into anything looking for food scraps. When I had visited the children at their day spot one Saturday they had been given new clothes the day before at school, which had been donated, to Educators Trust by some visitors from the UK who had brought with them a suitcase of clothes from neighbours, grandchildren, nieces etc. The teachers and volunteers at Educators Trust wash the children at the schools, as these children have no water available to them. The children belonging to this area had also been given the full works that day (including getting rid of the nits) and slides and hair bands for the girls. On that Saturday they were in their old clothes and they showed me their “new clothes” of which they were so proud of, which were up the tree, and it was explained that they were there so they could wear these to school on the Monday
We drove to the area where they sleep at night which is just in the Calangute area and though I had seen these children at both weekends and during the week; nothing prepares you for the sadness of seeing the children and their families sleeping on the pavement with if they were lucky a blanket over them. Three or four families or sometimes more huddle up together for warmth. Marinder from Educators Trust and his wife were already there with the food ready in the van which Educators Trust had recently bought. Oh what a godsend this van is as it makes transporting food so much easier that on the backs of scooters! Also the children all know the van as it is painted bright orange and with Educators’ Trust logo on it and wherever the van goes children normally are seen running after it or up to it to say hello. However on this occasion though the children were all asleep and curled up.
A table was set up and pans of good nourishing food wereplaced on this with plates. The food had been cooked by the cook at Educators’ Trust who does the cooking for all the children at the various schools. Whilst they were doing this Diego, Ian and I went around and woke up the children who were sleeping. You would think that they would wake up grizzly or grumpy but this is far from the case. As soon as they saw who it was they were running around and whooping with delight and even at that hour they wanted piggy backs and to be swung etc. So once the preliminaries were over they got to the serious business of food.
Now these children are permanently hungry and the food was on the tables but there was no pushing or fighting or grabbing. Instead they form a queue for the food with the oldest children always making sure that the little ones get the food first. So the children sat and ate their food, with one little girl sitting on a pile of dirt gravel. Whilst the children were eating the parents were fed and the gratitude in their eyes wanted to make me cry. Most of the husbands work as the poorest paid manual workers and this meal ensures that they have the energy to get through the next day. And the mums, well they just want their children happy. And children are happy when they have food in them. Three or four of the children under the age of three were still sleeping so some food was put aside for them later.
The children that wanted second helping were then served up some more food. As there was food left over it was then distributed amongst the others sleeping all in the same area and received with much thanks. Water was then handed around and it makes it so sad that these people do not have access to one of the most basic commodities that we all need in order to survive. We take so much for granted. One of the things that strikes you is just how resilient the children are. They live in these conditions and yet they still laugh and smile. They are all so appreciative and in school they love learning and being taught. But so often it is the street children that get missed so it’s great that these children have a chance to be educated and happy and hopefully break the circle that they are in due to poverty.
The tables were then put away and all cleared up and Marinda and his wife set off for home, whichtakes about half an hour. They are not paid for this night time feeding and give their time voluntary. Diego and Ian made sure everyone was OK, the children were settled down for the night and with much waving we left happy with the knowledge that the next morning the children would wake up with full stomachs.
I found it a very humbling experience and I don’t know if enjoyable is the right word to use but I would not have wanted to have missed it. For me it was even more poignant as that night we had fed the children with whom I had been working with. I got to bed just after two in the morning and was tired when I went to Inspiring Light later that morning. Yet when I arrived there Diego and Ian had been at work since early, Marinda had already picked up one set of children from the streets and the slum areas and was out picking up another set. He then arrived with the children that we had fed earlier at the night time feeding and seeing them full of smiles and so proud to be in school made it all worthwhile. It was an experience not to have been missed, as has been working as a volunteer at Educators Trust.