Feeding the children that turn up at the Sathya Sai Centre each day for their lunch has been an overwhelmingly positive experience… Visiting the children at the various camps the Sathya Sai World Foundation sponsors food to be distributed to, has been an eye opener to their reality…
But how the food gets replenished into the storage room is something I hadn’t really considered… Until Shanti said to me after breakfast; “Kali, get ready… We’re going downtown.”
I was excited to venture into the chaos of down town on an errand with Shanti Paudel– Sai Baba centre coordinator, to buy enough food supplies to feed 2000 children each day for a month. There is a lot of pleasure in feeding the children, however I wanted to get the full experience, and that includes knowing where the food is coming from… Because it doesn’t just land on the kitchen table!
On our checklist included:
50x 25kg sacks of rice, 50x 25kg sacks of maize, 100 packets of spaghetti… And that’s just the dry foods for the storage cupboard!
On average each meal costs just $0.18 cents per child, per day. A small price to pay to stop a child from going hungry. However like any NGO, a lot of work goes into accounts in order to keep the program sustainable.
The visit to the wholesalers warehouse is a chore that has to be done once a month when food supplies start running low. It’s not for the faint hearted to venture into the outskirts of Cité Soleil, one of Port-au-Prince’s notorious neighbourhoods in search of wholesale prices to keep costs low. However despite his Nepalese origin, Paudel is no ‘blanc’ (white person/foreigner). He is able to win the respect of Haitian people wherever he goes. This also includes getting the best prices when buying food in bulk… Paudel is very much Haitian!
The coordinators of the centre, Carlos Suarez and Shanti Paudel, take careful measures to keep costs low, while the quality of meals produced remain high. In the last year and a half costs have been drastically reduced by more than 60%. This benefits both sponsor and children, as it means the food program can run for longer periods, without leaving a whole in the pockets of sponsors worldwide. The whole sellers warehouse is open from 7am each morning. They supply food to all parts of Haiti. Market woman were there in their numbers. They may not wear the suits of western society, but they are very much the business women that contribute to keep the economy running.
It was an eye-opener to see the working conditions of the workers. Manual labour in every sense. Upon seeing the men carry up to five 25kg sacks on their head and shoulders (that’s like carrying five of my suitcases of their heads!), I asked why they don’t use trollies. My answer was coated with an amused laugh and a simple response; “there isn’t enough space for a trolly.” True enough, the allies created between the stacks of rice mounted high, are narrow. Just leaving enough room for the workers to maneuver through.
I spoke to one of the workers who was loading onto the truck. The 53 year old was beaming with sweat. When I admired his hard work, he explained in Kreyol that he is the father of three children and it’s his sole responsibility to provide for them…
Even if that means working a potential back-breaking job, and risking his life by standing on the seal of the truck to prevent theft, while the food is delivered to the Sathya Sai centre.
I couldn’t help but admire him. And his story is duplicate to a thousand others. On first glimpse, the environment seems chaotic. However standing to one side as I took initiative to do, I noticed it was a system that worked. Whether it works in the right way, is another question. I hope in the future to return with a film crew and document the environment of the workers of these huge warehouses. The link between the outside world the food comes from and distribution to the whole country.
Overall, a very productive and insightful day at the wholesalers!
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