An IT Employee’s Extraordinary Journey of Feeding 7 Lakh People
We’re all aware of the burning issues in our country, yet most of us are hesitant to help assuming that we’re ordinary people. We believe that one person through his/her efforts cannot make a difference. But the work of Nilay Agarwal, an ordinary person like us is an excellent reminder that one need not be extraordinary to do something for the betterment of society. Initiative is all it takes!
Nilay who hails from Lucknow, is an IT employee who founded Vishalakshi Foundation with the aim to mitigate hunger and poverty. In a span of three years, the foundation has managed to feed 7 lakh people and help 45000 families with grocery and ration kits. This is just one variable of the organization's inspiring accomplishments.
What Motivated Nilay
“I have always wanted to help around with social work but kept postponing my plans till I made enough money”, he said in an interview with Giving for Good Foundation. Unfortunately, tragedy struck and gave him a whole new perspective. Vishalakshi, a close friend of Nilay lost her life in a car accident days before her wedding. This incident helped him understand the ultimate truth of life — unpredictability. You never know how life unfolds; all you can do is act in the present. The sad demise of his friend is Nilay’s motivation. Soon, he founded Vishalakshi Foundation, named after his friend.
Facts & Figures of Grave Concern
Given the nature of his work, Nilay is elbow-deep in research. His work made him aware of the glooming stats of hunger in India, and he realized that he had never paid attention to the death rate due to hunger. “20 crore people sleep on an empty stomach, 7000 people die in India out of hunger every day out of which 3000 are children. Imagine 25 lakh people losing their lives because they don't have access to ration and food. Isn't it more serious than the Covid-19 pandemic?”, questions Nilay. Facts that were brought to his notice through the nature of his work convinced him to do his bit to mitigate hunger and poverty in India, and he started his first project under Vishalakshi foundation — Project Hunger.
Willingness V/s Excuses
Nilay believes that change comes with the willingness to put in the effort and his actions perfectly align with his words. As a working professional, dedicating time towards Vishalakshi foundation was a major challenge. His solution? Making good use of the weekends.
The Power of Social
The power of social media is unparalleled and has helped Nilay in his positive pursuits. As Nilay took to social to share his journey, more people started noticing his efforts and expressed their willingness to volunteer. What started with one man in 2019 is now an amazing team of 4000 volunteers spread across the country. “I believe that people need to connect with others on an emotional level to truly understand their struggles”, said Nilay. Despite having no funds or help from the government or corporates, he along with his army of volunteers have managed to feed 7 lakh people and 45000 families with food and ration kits. What’s inspiring is that the efforts of the NGO have been appreciated by the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, Shrimati Anandibai Patel. Publications jumped in too, to spread the word and so Nilay’s work now features in Forbes India and Sony Pictures Network.
Bringing Schools to Slums
Nilay frequently visits children who live in slums and low-income areas to distribute food and ration. These visits leave him wondering – is feeding children enough? To bring to them better opportunities that eventually keep them and their families well fed, he launched the Dream School for slums. In less than 60 days, his first Dream School stood tall and accommodated 52 children who had never seen a book and a pencil! Today, the Foundation successfully runs 15 Dream Schools across cities including Lucknow, Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Kashmir, Mumbai, Prayagraj and Ranchi. “We have set up 15 Dream Schools so far and we are not stopping. I'm proud to say that every 60 days we are building a school where children from slums get free education”, said a happy and proud Nilay.
Nilay's consistency and commitment started to yield results and he realized it the day a lady living in a slum greeted him with ‘good morning, bhaiya'. He couldn't help but wonder where she picked up an English greeting and realized that she was the mother of one of the children enrolled with the Dream School. Little things like children greeting him in sync brought him joy, the same children who had never been taught how to speak in English.
Thanks to Sanjani
“From starting alone to having 4000 volunteers, zero presence to 15 cities, and zero schools to 15 Dream Schools, we have come a long way in the last three years”, says Nilay. Throughout his journey, Nilay came across countless people who accused him, called him a fraud and whatnot! A major challenge for him was continuing down his path as he didn’t quite understand what he had done to deserve such harshness. At that time, Nilay visited slums to distribute food and rations. He was on the verge of giving up as most people called him an attention-seeker for helping those in need. One day, a young girl walked up to him and held his hand firmly, he fondly recalled her name — Sanjani. She looked at him and thanked him with a genuine smile on her face, and that’s when Nilay realized that he should only be concerned with what his beneficiaries have to say about his work. He realized that children and people living in the slums look up to him. He decided to choose 400 families over four people’s opinions of him. After that, he never looked back.
Nilay believes in the power of the youth but knows that the larger part of the youth does not believe in their capabilities. His aim to empower the youth and guide them early on. Each time he comes across a young boy/girl who has potential, brilliant ideas and often not taken seriously by their elders, he says to them, “People like me need you. We believe in you. 95% of the support we have comes from youngsters and their work is unbelievable. Make mistakes, own them, and learn from them. That’s one precious gift that comes with young age.”
Social Work: Not Just Another Line of Work but a Lifestyle
For Nilay, social work is a lifestyle. He believes that social work should be part of our everyday lives. “I have been an IT professional for the past 6 years. I have not left my job. I consider the social work I do as my responsibility. Just sharing a roti is enough or is it too much to ask?”, questions Nilay. In all sincerity, the Giving for Good Foundation appreciates the courage, commitment, and dedication of Nilay Agarwal. He is truly a role model who proves that our actions make us extraordinary!
Exclusively written for Giving for Good Foundation by Puja Das