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Pakistanis and Indians unite to feed the poor

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The Robin Hood Army collects excess food and delivers it to those who aren’t sure where their next meal will come from.

Karachi (Pakistan), June 14, 2016: Just as fans from India and Pakistan were gearing up for a cricket World Cup match between the South Asian rivals last February, two friends from either side of the border were coming together to defeat the countries’ common enemy – hunger.

In 2014, Neel Ghose had launched an initiative to feed 150 homeless people in New Delhi. When he shared the idea with Sarah Afridi a few months later, the Pakistan chapter of Robin Hood Army (RHA) was born.

A third of the world’s annual food production for human consumption – 1.3bn tonnes – goes to waste, according to a Food and Agriculture Organization study. This could feed the one in nine of the 7.3 billion people in the world who go to bed hungry each night.

In Pakistan, six out of 10 people suffer from food insecurity, meaning that 60 percent of the country’s population has limited access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.

Groups of youths in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad set out each Sunday to collect excess produce from food outlets with which they feed a few hundred households in Pakistan.

“We take this food to those who are not sure where their next meal is going to come from,” Anaam Afridi, a founding member of RHA Pakistan, told Al Jazeera while distributing food on a sweltering afternoon in a Hindu slum in the southern city of Karachi.

The Robin Hood Army’s slogan, “We might be on different teams but we are batting for the same side”, is aimed at bridging the India-Pakistan divide, explained Afridi, barely audible above the sound of children singing at the sight of cupcakes and pastries.

The Robin Hood Army is present in 23 cities across five countries – Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia – with more than 3,000 Robins having served nearly 500,000 people.

With the basic logistics in place, the group started expanding, with its popularity growing on social media and by word of mouth. 'People really wanted to help out because when you live in a big city, you tend to stay in your own little bubble,' says co-founder Anaam Afridi.
With the basic logistics in place, the group started expanding, with its popularity growing on social media and by word of mouth. ‘People really wanted to help out because when you live in a big city, you tend to stay in your own little bubble,’ says co-founder Anaam Afridi.

 

In just over a year, the Robin Hood Army's ventures in Pakistan have taken it to some of the poorest parts of the country. As well as providing food for slum households, the group has taken food to porters working at railway stations, patients' attendants at government hospitals, street children and orphanages.
In just over a year, the Robin Hood Army’s ventures in Pakistan have taken it to some of the poorest parts of the country. As well as providing food for slum households, the group has taken food to porters working at railway stations, patients’ attendants at government hospitals, street children and orphanages.

 

Sahil Abbasi is the owner of a biryani outlet in Karachi. 'I went along with them on their second distribution just to see what they actually do and I loved their work so much that now I'm one of them.'
Sahil Abbasi is the owner of a biryani outlet in Karachi. ‘I went along with them on their second distribution just to see what they actually do and I loved their work so much that now I’m one of them.’

 

A typical Sunday for the Robin Hood Army begins with food collection from contributing businesses. The team gathers at a central point before heading out to different localities. At this Hindu slum in Karachi, the community's temple became the operations centre, where food was packed and sorted amid jokes, high-fives and chats with the locals.
A typical Sunday for the Robin Hood Army begins with food collection from contributing businesses. The team gathers at a central point before heading out to different localities. At this Hindu slum in Karachi, the community’s temple became the operations centre, where food was packed and sorted amid jokes, high-fives and chats with the locals.

 

As the team arrives, chants of 'Robin Hood' from the elders and giggles from the children can be heard. 'People welcome us with open hearts. They tell us that more than the food, the kids missed us,' said Anaam Afridi.
As the team arrives, chants of ‘Robin Hood’ from the elders and giggles from the children can be heard. ‘People welcome us with open hearts. They tell us that more than the food, the kids missed us,’ said Anaam Afridi.

 

While food is being taken care of by one team, another gets busy with the children. The 'engagement team' passes on basic information about health, cleanliness, community and education, with a little singing and dancing thrown in for good measure.
While food is being taken care of by one team, another gets busy with the children. The ‘engagement team’ passes on basic information about health, cleanliness, community and education, with a little singing and dancing thrown in for good measure.

 

'This is also a good way of distracting the kids and keeping them from jostling over the food while the other team does its work,' Anaam Afridi explains as the children laugh and sing.
‘This is also a good way of distracting the kids and keeping them from jostling over the food while the other team does its work,’ Anaam Afridi explains as the children laugh and sing.

 

Poor nutrition is the cause of 45 percent of deaths of children aged under five; that is 3.1 million children each year. One out of six children in developing countries is underweight, according to the World Food Programme.
Poor nutrition is the cause of 45 percent of deaths of children aged under five; that is 3.1 million children each year. One out of six children in developing countries is underweight, according to the World Food Programme.

 

Each household is handed one meal for the family and a box of snacks for the children.
Each household is handed one meal for the family and a box of snacks for the children.

 

The Robins form two distribution teams and set out for the most rewarding part of their trip. A local vendor's cart comes in handy for taking the packets through the narrow, winding lanes of the slum.
The Robins form two distribution teams and set out for the most rewarding part of their trip. A local vendor’s cart comes in handy for taking the packets through the narrow, winding lanes of the slum.

 

The community's children dance to Bollywood hits as the volunteers go about their work in the 42C heat and high humidity.
The community’s children dance to Bollywood hits as the volunteers go about their work in the 42C heat and high humidity.

By Hafsa Adil and Faras Ghani