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A Bangladeshi Man Who Knows Hunger All Too Well Provides Affordable Meals for Children in Need

Bidyananda students enjoying their one taka meal. Photo via 1 Taka meal facebook page. Used with permission.

Bidyanondo students enjoying their one-taka meal. Photo via 1-Taka Meal Facebook page. Used with permission.

Lunch is served. For just one buck. Surprised? Have we gone back to the days of when a horse cost as much as a piece of bread does today? No, we’re still talking about the present.

A Bangladeshi organization named Bidyanondo has launched an initiative that seeks to distribute food to the underprivileged children of Dhaka and other areas for just one Bangladeshi taka (0.013 US dollars). The initiative began six months ago in May, and it is taking place in five districts including Dhaka. The organisation says that 121,000 children and elderly people have been fed as of September 22, 2016, and the plan is to distribute food to at least 300 underprivileged children a night.

Bidyanondo is mainly a volunteer educational institute for the underprivileged. The institute has five branches all over the country with more than 750 underprivileged children studying at its schools. The principal mind behind the one-taka meal venture is Kishor Kumar Das, who currently lives in Peru’s capital Lima. When asked about the initiative, he explained to Global Voices that it was personal:

নিজেই ছিলাম মন্দিরের সামনে ক্ষুধার লাইনে। তখন চিন্তা ছিলো, আমিও একদিন ফিরিয়ে দিবো এই খাবার। সেই চিন্তা থেকে করা। আমাদের ৫টা স্কুলে প্রতিবছর দরিদ্র ছাত্রছাত্রী ঝড়ে পড়ে, তাঁদের আটকানো একটা কারণ ছিলো। আরেকটা কারণ ছিলো খুবই দরিদ্র শিশুদের স্কুলে টানার জন্য।

There was a time when I used to wait in the long lines in front of the temple for a little food. I decided back then that if I ever get the opportunity, I will return the same kindness to those who needed it. Impoverished children drop out of our schools every year. Keeping them in school was one reason for the initiative. Another was attracting other children to join our schools.

Although the Bangladeshi constitution states that food is a basic right for all, many people still go to sleep without a meal almost every night. Children are especially vulnerable.

There are around 400,000 underprivileged children in Bangladesh. Most of them spend their nights on the street or in bus and rail stations. They have little to eat and no money to buy more food. It is for them that Bidyanondo began their project.

"We were providing vegetable rice for the kids that day at the railway station. One guy came and told them "why eat these cheap food? Come with me - I will give you Biriyani (fried rice with meat)". A 10 year old kid replied- "these sisters bring food for us from afar and we should not turn them away. And you will not come everyday for us". - Bidyanondo

“We were providing vegetable rice for the kids that day at the railway station. One guy came and told them, “Why eat this cheap food? Come with me, I will give you biriyani (fried rice with meat).” A 10-year-old kid replied, “These sisters bring food for us from afar and we should not turn them away. And you will not come every day for us.” From Bidyanondo's Facebook page. Used with permission.

‘I want to feed at least two hundred little flowers’

Bidyanondo had started the initiative with their leftover food budget and financial backing from founder Kishor Kumar Das. But many others have enthusiastically joined the project since then. Some have donated the money they had saved up for their birthday party. Some have given away their Eid bonus, while others have contributed to the project with their hard-earned tuition money.

Not only individuals, but an organization named Serverghost Foundation has also joined in. They donated all the money they received as an award from Google to Bidyanondo’s project.

Food being distributed among underprivileged children. Photo courtesy 1 taka meal facebook page. Used with permission.

Food being distributed among underprivileged children. Photo courtesy 1-Taka Meal Facebook page. Used with permission.

One of the individuals who have helped the cause become a success posted this on Bidyanondo’s Facebook page:

আমি খুব ছোট একটা চাকরি করি, সম্বল খুব নেই। তবে ঈদে যে বোনাস পাইছি তা দিয়ে ২০০টা কচি ফুলকে অন্তত এক বেলা খাওয়াতে চাই।

I have a very small job, and my savings are little. But I want to feed at least two hundred little flowers (kids) with my Eid bonus.

The page later announced that 203 children were fed with that person’s contribution.

One taka being collected from each child. Photo via 1 taka meal facebook page. Used with permission.

One taka being collected from each child. Photo via 1-Taka Meal Facebook page. Used with permission.

‘I wanted to eliminate the word “alms” from the children’s dictionary’

When asked why the meals are priced at one taka, Kishor Kumar Das had this to say:

বিষয়টিকে যেন ভিক্ষা হিসেবে না দেখা হয় সেজন্য শিশুদেরকে এক টাকা দিয়ে খাবার কিনতে হয়। শুরুতে বিষয়টি নিয়ে অনেকে হাসাহাসি করেছে, কিন্তু এখন শিশুগুলোর মধ্যে অহংবোধ এসেছে। অনেকে আজ বাকিতে খাবার নিলেও কাল এসে টাকাটা দিয়ে যাচ্ছে। আমি এ জায়গাটাই বদলাতে চেয়েছিলাম, শিশুদের ভেতর ‘ভিক্ষা’ এবং দাতাদের মধ্যে ‘দান’ শব্দটি মোছার জন্য।

We don’t want this initiative to appear as charity or pity. There was a lot of ridicule about this at first, but the children have a certain degree of pride now. Even if some of them can’t pay for the food right away, they’ll give us the money next day. I wanted to eliminate the word ‘alms’ from the children’s dictionary, and the word ‘donation’ from the givers’.

The meal usually consists of rice and vegetable curries. But when there are enough funds, the children sometimes enjoy much-beloved dishes like pilaf and chicken curries. The food is prepared by the volunteers of Bidyanondo.

Here is a video report on this initiative uploaded to YouTube by user Video Vubon:

A lot of volunteer initiatives in Bangladesh usually cannot linger after a promising start for a variety of reasons. When asked whether the one-taka meal project will remain active in the long run, Das said:

বেশীরভাগ প্রতিষ্ঠান শুরু হয় আবেগি মাথায়, অনভিজ্ঞ হাতে, বাস্তবতার সাথে যুদ্ধ করতে গিয়ে দুর্বল হয়ে হারিয়ে যায়, বিশেষ করে পেশা আর সংসার শুরু করে। আমরা শুরু করছি এসব স্টেজ পার করার পর। আরেকটি ব্যাপার হলো, অর্থের সংস্থান। উদ্যোক্তাকে নিজেই স্বাবলম্বী হতে হবে প্রতিষ্ঠান চালাতে, বিনা অনুদানে প্রতিষ্ঠান কয়েক বছর চালানোর সক্ষমতা জরুরি। দীর্ঘমেয়াদী চালাতে আমি নিজের ব্যবসার মালিকানা এই বিদ্যানন্দকে দিয়ে দিয়েছি, এটা দিয়ে এর খরচের অনেকটা পূরণ করা যাবে।

Most similar initiatives are started by the inexperienced and run with more heart than brain. When faced with reality, these initiatives sometimes buckle. Especially when you have to find time for a family and a job, charity work becomes increasingly unmanageable. We’ve started after finishing these stages. Another thing is the financing. The people in charge of the initiative should be able to run the organization through their own means. It is important to operate the organization without donations or outside help for a few years. I’ve transferred the ownership of my local business to Bidyanondo, to secure finances in the long-term.

Food delivery vans have been incorporated into the project to better manage the distribution process. The volunteers take these food-filled vans to railway stations and give them out to underprivileged kids. The project leaders dream of a day when this type of food vans or shops will be found all over the country, selling their wares for one taka to those in need.

Guests at the hotel helping to cook for underprivileged children. Photo courtesy 1 taka meal facebook page. Used with permission.

Guests at Das's hotel helping to cook for underprivileged children in Lima. Photo via 1-Taka Meal Facebook page. Used with permission.

Crossing borders

A similar initiative has begun in Peru’s capital Lima. Food is distributed among the slum children of Lima every week. Kishor Kumar Das runs a hotel business in Lima. The profits from that business are used to pay for this endeavor. The food is cooked in the hotel’s kitchen. The cooking is a team affair, with hotel guests and tourists participating.

Das dreams of the day when this project of his will spread throughout the world. No child will have to suffer hunger anymore. Because he remembers his time standing in line in front of the temple. Because he understands the pain of hunger, of the hungry. That is why he wants to help underprivileged children.

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