REDONDO BEACH, Calif. — The Akshaya Patra Foundation, whose social mission has continued to provide daily, mid-day meals to millions of impoverished children in India since early 2000, is advancing its cause to raise awareness via the launch of its new global video campaign, #FeedingDreamers, in partnership with Google and indi.com.
Akshaya Patra USA’s Foundation CEO, Emily Rosenbaum, and Los Angeles advisory board member Vandana Tilak, accompanied by master of ceremonies and Indian American comedian Rajiv Satyal, hosted a “Comedy and Bollywood Dance Fest” at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center here Oct. 4 to launch the campaign.
The show intertwined comedy by Paul Varghese and Maz Jobrani, dance performances, persuasive speeches and introduced #FeedingDreamers videos to champion the goal to feed five million “dreamers” by 2020.
AP USA’s latest thrust into crowd sourcing, a phenomenon that recently drove millions to raise awareness for ALS through an ice bucket challenge, will not only bolster “the dreamer in all of us” but also support the “unrealized dreams” of destitute children in India, according to Rosenbaum.
Google’s brand marketing evangelist Aprajita Jain and CEO Neel Grover of indi.com, sparked by AP USA’s interest in creating a “quick awareness building mechanism,” joined forces to not only “shine the spotlight” on AP’s dream to end hunger, but to also aggregate donor involvement and enhance their connectivity to the cause through video content using an online platform.
Jain kindled vigor by likening hunger to fasting without choice in her speech to the audience. “When I fast,” said Jain, “I always think about what I am going to eat next. There are millions of children who also fast, but it is without choice, and these children do not know where their next meal is coming from.”
Aimed at a younger audience, it is a way to create a short message on video using cellphones or tablets which can be uploaded to any social media with the hashtag, explained Jain.
“We would like you to share your experience with hunger and how you are going to support hungry children,” she said, adding that it can be via a pledge, personal or monetary.
Google’s technology will then pick up the #FeedingDreamers postings from “anywhere” on the internet and propel them to indi.com, where videos with the highest vote will be entered in a contest, Jain explained.
Keynote speaker, entrepreneur and “inventor of email” Dr. V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai amplified the call to action by relaying his powerful connection to hunger.
“I am a product of the food program, and, as a member of the ‘lower caste,’ the early food programs instituted in India gave rise to my parents and someone ‘like me,’” he said.
The systems biologist also elaborated on recent gene theories which reveal that apart from our genetic code and external factors, nutrition in particular can “turn on and turn off” genes.
Ayyadurai is married to actress Fran Drescher, who graced the stage with Satyal earlier in the show to provide support for AP’s cause.
AP’s to date goals and accomplishments were also elaborated by Rosenbaum and Tilak. Tilak said with 12 to 60 million child laborers and the consequent 40 percent dropout rate in schools, hunger continues to limit school attendance.
The results, according to Tilak, are in the numbers, as AP’s centralized kitchens within 22 Indian cities continue to serve 1.4 million daily meals, which have increased enrollment and reduced drop-out rates.
The mounting growth has also been AP’s biggest challenge, admitted Rosenbaum to India-West. With an estimated need of $1.5 million per year for every 100,000 child meals, she added that AP’s need for donor contribution is also on an upswing.
Aside from subsidies from the Indian government, one avenue to sustain expansion, according to Rosenbaum, is AP’s stretch into pilot programs such as Akshaya Nidhi, which will embrace “for profit” ventures and sell the “same prepared food for children” to employers and agencies to fund budgeting needs.
Rosenbaum also cited the recent progress of AP USA and its 12 chapters in continuing their vision. The momentum of the volunteer base increased from a handful to about a 100 for the L.A. chapter alone. A youth ambassador program was also recently launched and drew over 100 high schoolers to raise funds and awareness.
Rosenbaum closed by calling Akshaya Patra the largest NGO program in the world and said that regardless of its well-recognized advances, “we are not just sitting on our laurels,” and “we cannot be satisfied as long as there is a child in the world who is going hungry.”
The event began with a VIP “meet and greet” and included performances delivered by comic Paul Varghese, Savithri Arts Academy and Nrityodaya Kathak Academy. Comic headliner and Iranian humorist Maz Jobrani closed the show with family-friendly wit which jabbed at cultural clichés faced by most immigrants.