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- ‘We Do Not Know How To Feed Our Children’
Purnota Dutta Bahl had a flourishing career before a visit to Tata Memorial Hospital in Mumbai changed her life forever. A little girl battling cancer reminded her of her daughter. Though she had been contributing her mite as an individual donor to the hospital, she realised that she needed to do more, especially for the poor children who were unable to cope with the cancer treatment because of malnutrition.
It was a brave decision to quit a cushy corporate job with a multinational, but it proved to be a turning point in her life. Seven years later, Cuddles Foundation—a President’s Award-winning charity organisation founded by her—is working with 29 hospitals in 19 cities across the country, providing holistic nutritional intervention to underprivileged kids fighting against the Big C. “Our mission is to make sure every child fighting cancer has the right nutrition needed to overcome it,” says Bahl. “We make sure we are there when a kid walks in for treatment at a cancer hospital.”
Bahl adds that more than 50,000 children are diagnosed with cancer every year in India and 40 per cent of them are malnourished at diagnosis. “Eight out of 10 don’t survive because of malnourishment,” she points out. “Since childhood cancer is curable the world over, there is no reason we should be losing kids to it because of something as basic as food and nutrition.”
She says chemotherapy cannot be administered successfully to kids who are undernourished because it can have deadly side effects. “So we have to work with doctors to make sure kids are strong enough to take their medicine,” she adds.
According to Bahl, about a third of Indians are believed to be malnourished and over 40 per cent of children receive less food than they should. “It could be dramatically reduced if children receive three things critical for good nutrition—adequate food, healthcare and environmental health.”
Bahl, 39, had to face many challenges after she embarked on her noble mission. “The first challenge we faced was that we were starting with a blank slate. There was no organisation doing what we were—focusing on nutrition for children with cancer. But we were lucky that we had a solid team of advisors—all the doctors at Tata Memorial who were championing the cause had our back from a clinical perspective,” she says. “The second challenge we faced was raising funds. We had to provide children free food, supplements and ration. So I put on my marketeer hat and started raising money. We were blessed that the cause resonated with others and we were able to demonstrate our credibility to donors. Another challenge was the high rate of children abandoning treatment midway because of the side effects of chemo. We had to bring that rate down as well.”
Looking back at her journey with satisfaction, Bahl says her foundation needs to be there in more hospitals in the times to come. “We want to make sure that all our kids are completing their treatment. We want our moms to be champions of nutrition in their communities because they have seen the consequences of poor nutrition in its deadliest of forms,” she says. “But as we expand our work to reach more, we will need more people to join us in this mission by supporting us with their money, voice, talent and influence. We hope more and more people come forth to help us reach out to every kid in the country that needs us.”
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