Determination and strong faith can often overcome any crisis. Dharmendra Kumar, a marathoner from Bihar, is a perfect example. Driven by a zeal to help reduce malnourishment in India, Kumar volunteered to run a cross-country marathon to raise funds for Akshaya Patra Foundation, a Bengaluru-based organisation that specializes in eradicating ‘classroom hunger’ by providing healthy and nourishing mid-day meals in government schools across many states in the country.
Explaining his reasons for taking up the cause of malnourishment through a prominent NGO, Kumar told Outlook POSHAN, “Rampant malnourishment has been plaguing India since long, and this issue has to be addressed properly.”
Inspired by the ‘hunger-free’ India initiative of the Akshaya Patra Foundation, Kumar undertook to raise funds for the NGO and create awareness through the cross-country charity run in May.
How It Started…
In November 2018, Kumar decided to run a marathon to commemorate the 550th birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, being a firm believer in Sikhism. Kumar pointed out that the Golden Temple in Amritsar also serves meals (langars) every day to thousands of pilgrims in the spirit of Sikhism, this led to his desire to attach a social cause to his run to commemorate the ‘Guru Parv’. Several Gurudwaras across India serve free langars to everyone, including the poor and the needy.
Inspired by Nanak’s vision of a hunger and malnourishment-free India, Bengaluru based Kumar zeroed in and decided to volunteer and support Akshaya Patra Foundation’s efforts to raise funds to feed as many hungry mouths as they can.
“Nanak Ji had an immense desire to fight malnourishment in India. This was one of the most major inspirations for me to take up this issue and bring it into the notice of the people….I was looking for an NGO that would support me in my endeavor. This is how I came to know about the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which is also based in Bengaluru,” he said.
The marathoner chose to complete his fund-raising journey in two parts. His first leg commenced from Sultanpur, a small city located in Kapurthala district of Punjab, on March 17 last year and ended on June 2 covering large parts of Punjab, Haryana, covering Delhi, UP, Bihar, Assam, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and finally ended in Punjab. He started the second leg of his 2,700 kms journey on June 4 again from Sultanpur and ended on August 25 after covering Madhya Pradesh, Telengana, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Rajasthan, and Gurajat. During the entire run, Kumar was able to raise Rs. 7.18 lakhs, which is sufficient to feed around 650 people for a year.
Map of the two routes undertaken by Dharmendra Kumar for his race towards malnutrition-free India
The routes were carefully chosen to coincide with those travelled by Baba Guru Nanak, as chronicled in several books and written by a famous Sikh historian. Kumar recalls having got in touch with the historian about the details of the routes before finalizing them.
Lauding Kumar’s efforts to raise funds, Sundeep Talwar, Chief-Marketing Officer, The Akshaya Patra Foundation, said his support would greatly help the NGO in carrying forward the NGO's work. “No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger,” said Talwar.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation currently serves nutritious meals to around 1.8 million children in 18, 192 schools across 12 states and 2 union territories in the country. Aided by the state governments, the foundation has set a target of reaching out to around 5 million children by 2025 to uplift the nutrition status of the underprivileged children across the country through mid-day meals. Apart from striving to eradicate ‘classroom hunger’, the foundation also lays importance on providing proper education to the beneficiaries.
Encouraged by the response to his efforts last year, Kumar plans to support many more social causes in the future. In 2020 also he has plans to undertake more marathons to raise funds to be able to reach out to many more hungry and malnourished children.
“I plan to carry on with my mission so that I will get many such opportunities to be able to share the sorrows of many such children out there,” he said. Efforts to eradicate malnourishment is one of Kumar's top agendas, and it is a laudable determination.