KARACHI: Some 30 youngsters gathered on a Sunday morning this month at Karsaz in Karachi. Anmol, 20, was taking a roll-call. In the next 30 minutes they all left in cars for the 13-D basti in the city’s Gulshan area. These are volunteers of Robin Hood Army Pakistan (RHA), a social initiative aimed at eliminating hunger by distributing food to poor families. In the slum, the youth, wearing green shirts, began by singing the national anthem. As it ended, some carts were brought in by the local residents.
Mohammed Rafique, hailing from southern Punjab, told The Hindu the RHA volunteers had been visiting the Gulshan area regularly for the past two years. They bring biryani and dal chawal. Sometimes, pizza too. For children, they have biscuits, juices, candies and pastries. Delivering them in disposable plates, the volunteers go to every makeshift residence, asking for the number of people. Separately, children make a circle in the nearby playground, in the middle of which a volunteer begins singing poems. “I love everything about Robin Hood Army. This is such a fulfilling and unusual experience for me, said Maryam Ahmed, 20, a volunteer. “When I meet these people, I get to know about the difficulties in their lives. I love to interact with them and motivate them.”
Sameer Beg, who leads the RHA in Pakistan, is happy that the wedding season has begun. Till now, the RHA has been collecting surplus food from restaurants. They have also managed to convince wedding planners and caterers to provide them surplus food, which they can distribute to the hungry. The RHA now has more than 300 volunteers. Lahore and Islamabad are planning to join the initiative from early next year.
The RHA was established by an Indian student, Neel Ghose, when he returned from London in 2014 after doing masters in finance. Born and brought up in Kolkata, Ghose started working in Delhi with Zomato, a restaurant aggregator. On a trip to Portugal, he heard about Re-Food, an initiative to distribute surplus food to the hungry and the poor. That led him to found the RHA in India.
Ghose, who is now doing MBA from Harvard Business School, says the name of the Robin Hood Army came up suddenly. “I and my friend Arooshi were thinking about Robin Hood, who got things from the rich and distributed them to the poor. Then we decided to name our initiative after him. Now we have 10,000 volunteers in 75 Indian cities, he said on the phone from the US. “In Pune, the Robin Hood Army is run by retired citizens. They are, in fact, doing a better job.”
CROSSING THE BORDER
After founding the Indian operations, he contacted his Pakistani classmate Sara Afridi and encouraged her to begin the RHA here. “Since both countries face similar problems of inequality and hunger, we chatted and she, along with her husband Sarfraz, founded the RHA Pakistan,” Ghose said. Afridi began the initiative on February 15, 2015, when Pakistan and India played against each other in the Cricket World Cup. She began with six of her relatives. Sameer Beg, the current team leader, was the ninth volunteer.
Today, the initiative is spread over 15 countries, mostly in South and Southeast Asia. The team leaders have a joint Whatsapp group called Robin Hood Boiler Room. Both Ghose and Beg are less concerned about the government-to-government relationship between Pakistan and India. “More people die of hunger in both countries than terrorism. So we have taken up the initiative to eliminate hunger from our countries,” Ghose said.