According to the Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement, 16.4 per cent of households in the country faced moderate to severe food insecurity during the fiscal year 2019-2020. While the country faces this crisis, the nation had also been recognised as the most generous in terms of giving away charities to the poor.
Last year, the World Giving Index ranked Pakistan as the 91th most generous country out of 144 nations. Whereas, the Stanford Social Innovation Review reported that when it comes to charitable giving, Pakistan is a generous country, and it contributes more than one per cent of its Gross Domestic Product to charity.
Karachi, the largest city of Pakistan, boasts many countrywide welfare trusts, charitable organisations and individuals who are into philanthropic work. One of the aspects of philanthropic work in Karachi is feeding the hungry. Since many years now, the city of lights has seen the welfare and charity organisations providing lunch and dinner either free of cost or charging nominal fee - set up on the roadsides or near their offices. Most organisations do charge a minimal price for the meal simply to give the people being served a sense of respect and dignity.
There is no dearth of kind-hearted individuals who make the effort of playing their part in giving back to the community, and one such individual is Azra Ali. An educationist by profession, Azra started Laal Roti [or ‘Precious Bread’] last year, a non-profit organisation and a community service platform to serve with care.
When Azra retired from her job, she started looking for something that would keep her occupied and busy with something productive. She then joined Noor-ul-Huda Education as Director Training last year, where her work is virtual. Along with her professional life, she found her calling with ‘Laal Roti’. “When Covid-19 hit the world, I realised that in normal circumstances there were already so many people who went to sleep hungry; but with the pandemic and the lockdown, I could only wonder what they must be going through. So, I thought, why not give the best back to the needy. This is how I started Laal Roti,” shares Azra.
The ‘laal’ vision
‘Laal’ means precious and the name is not referring to the colour red instead the underline inspiration for the name came from Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.
“Our mission is to provide nutritious food, packaged with love, care and the highest standards of hygiene in mind. It is an effort to overcome hunger and create an environment of satisfaction for at least that particular day,” informs Azra. “We also cater to the people who are daily wagers and low-income earners. Our aim is to eliminate hunger and indirectly try to improve the health and well-being of our community.” According to Azra, the organisation envisages a community where everybody has access to decent quality food, which then creates a stronger, healthier community.
What sets this organisation apart is the fact that they give the people a choice, along with their dignity. “The difference in the food platter of Laal Roti compared to any other charity outlets is that they prepare the food according to the order sent. We consider the fact that some may prefer biryani, nihari or qorma to be served,” she tells. Azra informs that while the menu is not set, they have devised a set package of items which mostly people approve of and order from it as well. The menu comprises sheermal, chicken kebab, a juice and cupcake simply amounting to 200 PKR per head. “Since there are also people who prefer to take the food home, we also have some dry items which are easy to manage and it doesn’t go bad by the evening.”
Reminiscing a funny story, Azra adds, “As a Delhiite, when we were young, we simply called sheermal and taftan ‘laal roti’. Since this is the main item and a must in our package, I have now been coined as ‘Parathay wali Aunty’ by the people who get to enjoy the package.”
All in a day’s work
When it comes to distribution, Laal Roti’s focus is on the daily wagers, in fact the whole set-up began on May 1st for the working-class community. These drives are done on Fridays or Sundays depending on help available that day. In one drive, the aim is to cater to at least 50 to 100 people. “Our hard-working labourers usually wait long hours in the sun for a job. Sometimes they get some work, sometimes the whole day would pass by without work. I have seen that some labourers get their wages a day after or sometimes after a week,” she grimaces. “Food is a right of every human being, but these labourers need money to buy food. Hence, we focus on daily wagers and we’re grateful that this small gesture of providing free meal goes a long way.”
It is still a small-scale setup, so Azra tells the scribe the efforts people make to get in touch with the organisation. “Those who can get a hold of our numbers, reach us directly. Whereas, the others get in touch with us through our Facebook page, requesting us to arrange food to serve 50-100 people in need,” she explains.
Talking about the pricing and how they manage, Azra describes, “There is a layout involved while cooking, packing, delivering and making it cost effective. The price of 200PKR per head for the basic package is easily manageable even with items getting expensive. If there is shortage; I add in the money as to not let it affect the quality of food.”
At the time of the interview, Azra gave her insight, “We have an order for our main package to feed 25 people. I prepare the order in a three-day time period. With money transferred, I bring the ingredients and ready-made items beforehand. Sheermal is priced for 40 PKR and for the kebabs, I make sure that the chicken meat for the kebabs has more chicken than pulses. Here, I take my sister in law’s help who prepares them and sends them already fried. In short, with my group of well-wishers we are giving our time but with love and care.”
Little effort goes a long way
Azra’s Laal Roti boasts of almost 50 well-wishers who prepare meals to serve the community. “Through our small effort for our hard-working labourers, if the Laal Roti family can make a little difference in someone’s life, it is an effort well-served. Even if it is one person or fifty, through this gesture the peace of mind and the utter satisfaction that I get is totally worth it. I’m grateful to God to receive this immense respect through my work,” concludes Azra.
Photography by Atif Badar