CHENNAI: For the last four years, Shilpam Rathore has been distributing meals to hospital patients and their attendants through her NGO, the Aranya Foundation. The NGO distributes 300 meals a day at the Outpatient Departments (OPD) in two hospitals in Chennai and one in New Delhi. Thus far, she has distributed 1,75,000 meals to the needy. She talks to CE about Aranya, and her views on charity.
What led to the formation of the Aranya Foundation?
It was a foggy night in December 2015, and I was returning from a wedding in New Delhi. I saw a woman cooking for her sick child on a footpath outside the All India Institute of Medial Sciences (AIIMS). My house was just 200 yards away, so I quickly cooked khichdi for her and when I spoke to her, I found out that there are hundreds like her who come from other cities.
I was moved listening to their stories, and decided to help them out in any way I could — if not through shelter, then at least by giving them food.
How has the foundation grown over the years?
Initially, I used to buy rotis and make a curry at home. My husband funded the entire thing. So, both my kids had to give up on their outings and adjust till things settled. Slowly, word spread and more funding came in. We started giving 100 meals a day for OPD patients at AIIMS. By March 2016, we were registered as the Aranya Foundation.
What’s the meaning behind the name ‘Aranya Foundation’?
The foundation is named after my children. When I started the NGO, my son was 12 years old and my daughter was 16 at that time. They had agreed to go without outside food for a month as we needed funds to prepare the food. Like any mother, I love my children very much, and so I decided to club their names — Arnav and Enya — to form the word Aranya. It also means respite.
When did you bring Aranya to Chennai?
In 2016, we moved to Chennai, and I decided to implement something similar here. It took me about six months to zero in on which demographic needed our help. In April 2017, we started distributing 100 meals daily at the Government Ophthalmic Hospital in Egmore. We give them different meals everyday — idlis, dosas and pongal to pulao. I am particular about the food being warm, just like how it is at home. Although we have shifted sights to Chennai, we are continuing operations at AIIMS side-by-side. Three weeks back, we began distributing 100-120 meals daily at the Adyar Cancer Institute. They already have a kitchen, so we are sponsoring the meals.
Does the Foundation hold any fundraisers?
We host an annual fundraiser. In 2017, we roped in Nizami Bandhu, a renowned Indian musical group, who flew down to the city for the first time. This year, we held our fundraiser on August 28, featuring the Warsi Brothers from Hyderabad.
What were you doing before you began Aranya?
I worked as an air hostess with Cathay Pacific from 1994 to 1998. As my husband works in the police department, I was constantly shifting homes. We were posted in places like Europe, Salem, Madurai, and Tuticorin. I was running a public relations company for charity for some time. As Paulo Coelho says in The Alchemist, ‘You need to go all around the world to find home is only here.’
How do you unwind?
I love listening to music and reading books. I love spending time with my children and try to be free to spend time with them. They are my number one priority. Also, I like to travel and explore different cultures — I am fascinated with Japanese and Korean cultures.
How are you at work vs at home?
At work, I am an extension of the person I am at home. My work is driven by what a person should be. Working for people depends on your value system. Therefore, I truly believe in charity begins at home.