If a Rotarian from the Rotary Club of Secunderabad, RI District 3150, Hari Kishan Valmiki, is passionate about reaching nutrient-packed eggs to orphanages, old age homes and other voluntary organisations for destitute, the reason dates back some 70-odd years and is tied to a gripping human-interest story.
But before telling that story, let’s have it on record that this Rotarian has in the last three years been instrumental in his own family charity and other NGOs, inspired or guided by it, distributing five lakh eggs to children in orphanages, homes for disabled children, senior citizens living in old age homes, etc.
His streak of charity, associated with nutrition and how it can wreck a childhood, is directly linked to his family history. “My father grew up in an orphanage; when he was four years old, his stepmother abandoned him in a crowded place. As a child beggar he survived for two years till a kind English police officer found him, put him in an orphanage, and paid for his education,” says Valmiki.
The child went on to become a medical doctor, worked as one for 10 years, before joining the civil services. Later an IAS was conferred on him and he retired as an IAS officer in 2003. His name is Dr Venkata Ramanappa. Because he had grown up in an orphanage, “the father of the girl, the richest in the area and to whom he was teaching English, and fell in love with, refused to give his daughter in marriage.”
Anyway, they defied the father, got married and had seven children. “As children we always heard our father say there is no need for us to become multimillionaires; if we are able to get three meals without any difficulty, the fourth meal should be shared with somebody less fortunate in our community.”
That seed of charity sowed in Valmiki stayed with him and led to his establishing the Valmiki Foundation in 2003, and later the Egg Bank with the motto: One egg, One child, One smile.
His Foundation runs Valmiki Hriday, an orphanage that takes care of 45 children. The idea to set up such an egg bank came to him when in 2017 he could barely find any support or funding to buy eggs at a subsidised cost to give these children, both to improve their nutrition and boost immunity. “I was horrified to note that I could not find a single donor to sponsor the eggs for our orphanage. I could not even find a way to buy eggs at a subsidy. Then I started wondering that if I am facing such a huge problem in finding funds, what about the numerous NGOs in the twin cities of Hyderabad and Secunderabad,” says Valmiki.
When after approaching many big names in the poultry industry, he drew a blank, he decided to approach Rotarians through his club and found favour at last, and Rotary became a partner in this venture.
Soon an egg bank was installed at the Home for Disabled at Bansilalpet, Secunderabad, which has 350 inmates. RC Secunderabad donated 3,500 eggs, with a promise to continue this project in a sustainable fashion so that every inmate gets an egg daily. “Now our DG, RID 3150, Hanmanth Reddy, has taken to heart this initiative and I am confident that of the 88 clubs in our district, many will promote such egg banks,” he says.
Interestingly, Valmiki’s association with Rotary dates back to 1989, when he was a young child. “My father had made me join Scouts and I had won a medal when I was seven. I was supposed to receive the medal from the then President of India R Venkataraman. But we were seven siblings and in those days my father didn’t have the money to pay for my travel to Delhi. At that time a Rotarian came forward to pay for my train ticket to Delhi. So I was always grateful to Rotary which was at the back of my mind and this gesture led to my eventually joining RC Secunderabad,” smiles Valmiki.
How they set up their family Foundation is another interesting story. Initially he and his brother donated money to orphanages and other NGOs in consonance with the family credo of giving back to society. “But we found that this money was often used for the personal expenses of people who ran those NGOs. So my brother and I took the bold decision of setting up our own NGO in 2003. By that time my father too had retired, and needed something to do with his time.”
Incidentally the first child they admitted went on to graduate in Sociology and got a gold medal. But because he had grown up in an orphanage, the father of the girl he wanted to marry refused to give his daughter to him. Valmiki’s family intervened and got the two married. “Today both of them are administering our charitable activities,” he adds.
He has special thanks to offer his brother Surya Ganesh Valmiki, the founder president of the Valmiki Foundation “who gave me a platform to do experiments to benefit not only the 45 kids in our orphanage but so many other children, elderly people and children with special needs.”
This Rotarian has been associated with the travel and tourism industry, starting his career as cabin crew with Jet Airways, and working with other airlines before starting his own tourism business. And his profession has also helped him to set up egg banks in Mexico, an island in the Caribbean Sea, Thailand and Nepal.
“I was also instrumental in taking 500 orphan kids through a project called Wings of Hope, a kind of joy ride on an airplane, with help from Trujet Airlines.” The children were taken from Hyderabad to Vizianagaram, and once again it was Rotary that came to his aid, when during one such trip the sponsoring hotel pulled out at the last minute saying it could not give accommodation to the children as they had suddenly got a bulk booking. “But RC Vizianagaram came to my rescue; with just one day’s notice they organised accommodation for the children at the Jindal Steel guest house and ensured they had a good time,” says Valmiki.
His profession in travel and hospitality has taken him to 66 countries, and he has been instrumental in setting up an egg bank in a home for senior citizens in Cozumel Island in the Caribbean. Later another egg bank was set up in Cancun, the popular holiday destination in Mexico.
Bang in the midst of corona pandemic, Valmiki has been instrumental in the starting of an egg bank, the first in the country, in Nepal on August 10. On Aug 15, India’s Independence Day, he organised a virtual meet, in which Rotarians from seven countries participated. At this meeting the logo of the egg bank was unveiled by popular badminton coach Pullela Gopichand, and an Indian postage stamp with the egg bank logo launched by Rotary India’s iconic donor Ravishankar Dakoju from RC Bangalore Orchards. The meet was attended by DGs N V Hanmanth Reddy (3150), Kit Bing Wong Ho (4195, Mexico) and Rajib Pokhrel (3292, Nepal).
“Through our Rotary News magazine, I am appealing to all Rotary clubs in India and overseas to come forward to adopt at least two to four NGOs in their area, and donate eggs to them on a daily basis.” He points out that as our economy has slowed down and businesses have been impacted, “I know for sure that many NGOs running orphanages, old age homes and other facilities for destitute are now serving only rice and sambar to their inmates (must be dhal in North India).” Not only will this poor diet impact their nutritional levels, it will also reduce their immunity at a time the deadly coronavirus is posing such a threat to the entire world, he adds.
Today, thanks to the Covid pandemic, many NGOs are able to serve only rice and sambar to their inmates, food so low on nutrition.
Valmiki recommends that Rotary clubs collect money and procure eggs directly from poultry farmers with support from the NECC (National Eggs Coordination Committee). He recalls how after seeing his campaign on social media to give eggs to orphans, elderly and other undernourished people, the NECC had contacted him and put him in touch directly with poultry farmers. The result is that he is able to knock off 80 paise from the price of each egg, and buy them in bulk at the rate of ₹3.15 a piece.
He points out that the Telangana government is providing eggs to some 135 registered NGOs in the state, and also giving two eggs a week to schoolchildren. “I know many NGOs are giving one egg a month to each child in their orphanages, or they have to wait for donors to offer birthday or anniversary celebration special meals with eggs. But I feel all this is not enough; we need to give one egg daily to children and the elderly, and I am telling Rotarians who are interested in setting up egg banks that it is important not to break this chain — of daily availability of eggs to the NGOs you are supporting.”
After all, he adds, it should not be difficult for clubs to spend ₹10,000–20,000 a month for this worthy cause which will improve the nutritional and immunity levels of vulnerable people in our population. Many Rotarians, he says, have expressed interest in the egg bank project. “Whoever is interested can contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org; M: 8688234560) and I will guide them how to go about setting up an egg bank, getting eggs directly from poultry farmers at a subsidised cost, etc.”
I am confident that this initiative to set up egg banks will grow much bigger than the Rice Bucket Challenge, if we promote this concept and make it viral on social media.
Heartened by the initial response that he has seen, this Rotarian is confident that the Rotary egg banks, with the objective to provide critical nutrition to undernourished people, “will grow much bigger than the Rice Bucket Challenge, if we promote this concept and make it viral on social media.”
Add to this the good response he had at the virtual meeting held on Aug 15. While unveiling the egg bank logo, Gopichand stressed on the importance of health and fitness, particularly during a pandemic such as the one we are facing now.
Once we have a foolproof project — how to procure the eggs, at what price, how to transport them, etc — I will promote this project in our zones.
– Ravishankar Dakoju, RC Bangalore Orchards
Ravishankar Dakoju, who released the postage stamp, recalled how RI Director Dr Bharat Pandya, “a genuine, practising doctor, says every time he speaks ‘Ek chamach kum, char kadam aage.’ But I would revise or tweak that mantra, particularly at a time when immunity is so important. Before char kadam aage, I would add ek anda (one egg), because to walk, or do exercise of any kind, you need proper nutrition and energy.”
He told Rotary News that he would support this programme and promote it at a national level. “But before that I want to assure myself that we have a foolproof project; how to procure the eggs, at what price, how to transport them and then choose the right beneficiaries. If we can have all this included in the project, and there are no loose ends, it would be a worthwhile project for Rotary to take up at not only national level, but in our entire zones — Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal.”
India’s egg/poultry consumption very low
Remember the jingle Sunday ho ya Monday, Roz khao ande? At a national workshop held last August to deliberate on the strategies to augment the potential and opportunities of exporting eggs and poultry meat, experts said that against the ICMR recommendation of per capita consumption of 10.5kg of poultry meat and 180 eggs a year, Indians consume only 30 eggs and 3.5kg of poultry meat a year. The world average is around the ICMR recommendation but India fares much lower. Of course, our low rate of consumption of this nutritious food is related to lower purchasing power as well as religious and cultural practices or vegetarianism.
But there is a chunk of our population, not vegetarian by religion or choice, which is nutritionally deprived, mainly due to lack of financial resources to consume food packed with protein and other nutrients. “An egg a day is the simple answer for children growing up in orphanages or living on streets, the elderly who are confined to old age homes, and other vulnerable sections which face hunger and poverty,” says Hari Kishan Valmiki, a member of RC Secunderabad.
While India is reportedly the third largest producer of eggs in the world and fourth largest of poultry meat, our own consumption rate is low and the NECC, with a membership of over 25,000 farmers, has played a significant role in the last two decades for the growth of the poultry industry and egg consumption. This it does through various programmes such as market intervention, price support operations, egg promotion campaigns, consumer education, market research, rural market development and liaison with the government.
Malnourishment a huge concern
When it comes to malnourishment, the news for Indians does not bring cheer. In the latest or 2019 report of the Global Hunger Index (GHI), India is ranked at No 102 of 117 countries, behind its poorer neighbours Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
Over the years, as we have marched towards the aspired status of a “developed country”, our nutrition status has only gone downhill. In 2000, we ranked 83 out of 113 countries. Now, that number has fallen to 102. It is small comfort that in 2018, India was ranked 103 out of 119 countries.
Seventeen countries, including Belarus, Ukraine, Turkey, Cuba and Kuwait, shared the top rank in the 2019 index, with a score of less than five.