Through tough times in their own lives, a BSc student Ashish Balmiki, 22, and a BBA final year student Vishal Kanojiya, 21, learnt the importance of community service. This inspired them to bring together a group of young people to feed underprivileged cancer patients and their caretakers at government hospitals in Mumbai.
Around five years ago, Ashish’s father was diagnosed with cancer and tragically passed away in 2016. During his treatment, Ashish would accompany him to the hospital and would see people with lesser means than himself struggling to navigate the hospital and treatment. “They never had much money and I would often wonder if they would have to choose between medicine and food,” says Ashish. “I would see them sleeping outside the hospital on the footpath and wonder about how they were managing. I really wanted to do something for them.”
Vishal had gone through a similar experience when his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer in the same year. “I would see frustrated people, confused people. Many of them had travelled from outside the city. All of this was just too much for them. In my heart I knew I wanted to help them but I didn’t know how. Then in 2018, I met Ashish, and I knew the time had come to do something,” says Vishal.
Ashish’s mother used to sell breakfast items in the Hindmata area of Mumbai, close to Parel Hospital, and whatever would remain at the end of her day, she would give away to the caretakers of the cancer patients for free. “I would often ask her why she was doing that,” says Ashish. “But my mother used to say that whatever little we can give to these people, we should give. Even if we can feed 10 people a day, that is doing a lot.” Ashish was at once inspired and decided he would do something along similar lines. “If I could skip one meal on Swiggy a week, I could feed at least 4 to 5 people,” explains Ashish, “It was like a lightening moment. I immediately decided to approach my friends and ask them if they could also contribute.”
Thus on December 1, 2018, the ‘Igniting Young Minds’ community effort began. Ashish and Vishal would ask for a Rs 100 contribution from their friends and with as little as 800 rupees, they were able to feed 200 people at a time. So far, the group has done more than 72 such activities. “We usually do the activities on a Sunday. Two days prior to the activity, we put out a call on our social media to generate funds and ask for volunteers,” says Ashish. Breakfast items include poha, upma, khichdi and other staples. The food is prepared and packaged in a safe and hygienic manner while being checked for its nutrition value by a nutritionist. “Since we are serving a sensitive group, we want to ensure that the food is healthy too,” he explains.
Along with food distribution in Mumbai, the group has done community service for groups outside the city as well. One such instance was when they helped the Kolhapur flood victims. Through their social media and with the help of friends and family they were able to raise Rs 80,000 and we able to provide blankets, toys for children, instant noodles and other flood relief items to the affected. They worked closely with the Pune Municipal Commissioner for this effort.
During the lockdown due to Covid-19, their movement was restricted. However, they still managed to help more than 100 people during this time. “The activity was planned overnight,” explains Vishal. “We would serve puri-bhaji to the underprivileged in our area on a daily basis. We were able to do this for one and a half months without fail,” he says proudly.
The Igniting Young Minds community has now started clothes distribution as well and will soon branch out into providing help with medical expenses for cancer patients and their kin. Their plan is to cover more areas in Mumbai and are looking for more volunteers and fund raising for the same.
“I have learned one thing in my childhood,” says Ashish, “There may be many people you can’t help, but you can definitely help the ones who are around you. If everyone thinks in this way, there will be a lot of change,” he concludes. Giving circle encourages more youngsters to initiate their own social work efforts. If you wish to join Ashish and Vishal in their cause, please click here.