Tapping compassion: The raging success of Kozhikode's Operation Sulaimani to feed the hungry

In the year since it was launched, the initiative has become part of the district’s social landscape.
Tapping compassion: The raging success of Kozhikode's Operation Sulaimani to feed the hungry
Tapping compassion: The raging success of Kozhikode's Operation Sulaimani to feed the hungry
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As customers walk out of the Iqbal’s hotel on Mavoor Road in Kozhikode, some can be seen scrunching rupee notes and dropping it in a box kept next to the cashier. A sticker pasted on the box says, “Operation Sulaimani”.

“Everyone knows what Operation Sulaimani is. We don’t have to explain or compel anybody to contribute. They willingly deposit money in the box before walking away,” Iqbal, the cashier says.

Operation Sulaimani, is the brainchild of District Collector N Prasanth, one of the initiatives under his flagship programme ‘Compassionate Kozhikode’.

Most humans are compassionate by nature and they just needed to be given an opportunity to help others. That’s the core idea behind the operation started in June 2015 and why it’s a roaring success more than a year later.

How Operation Sulaimani works:

Donations from the public (like the money that comes into the box in Iqbal hotel) are used to fund coupons, which are made available at village-level government offices and designated hotels. People can use these coupons in designated eateries in the district to get free lunch.

In short, individuals buy food for complete strangers they’ve never met.

“The greatest motivation people can ever receive is the smiles they get when a hungry person is served food. There is a constant feedback that the stakeholders receive in terms of human interaction. There is no bigger motivation than that,” Prasanth told The News Minute.

In June 2015, Operation Sulaimani was launched in just 40 restaurants and eateries in Kozhikode Town, now it has spread to 200 joints all over the district.

On a daily basis, Iqbal’s restaurant has about 10 people using the coupons to have a meal. But this number goes up on days when volunteers distribute the coupons on the road.

When the Collector proposed the idea to the district Hotel and Restaurants Association last year, they readily agreed. One of the main reasons for this was that hotels do not have to bear any added expenditure to sustain the initiative, says Ahammed Devarkovil, Vice President of Kerala Hotels and Restaurants Association.

“Even before collaborating with the district administration for the programme, many hotels did not deny food to the needy. But of course, none of us could make that a daily practice because of obvious reasons,” he told The News Minute. 

District Collector N Prasanth

In the year since it was launched, the initiative has become part of the district’s social landscape. It helps that the Collector often reminds people that food is the right of every citizen and that a person’s dignity shall not be compromised because he’s starving.

Abdul Salam, manager at Venad hotel near Medical College Hospital, agrees. For families of patients admitted at the hospital, the initiative is a blessing. He pulls out two food coupons from the drawer that they received that day.

Measures to spread awareness about the availability of the coupons need to be stepped up, says 45-year-old Babu, cashier at Alankar Fast Food on Mavoor road. The last time someone came asking for the coupons at his hotel was sometime in April.

“We only give away the coupons, since we don’t serve meals. Though we are located near the bus stand, not many people know that Sulaimani food coupons are available here,” Babu says.

Ahammed says that this problem would soon be solved when the newly proposed kiosks are set up. In the near future, the association will set up kiosks at railway stations and other public places to make the coupons more accessible to the people. 

“The primary purpose of this programme is to provide a day’s meal to the needy without compromising on their dignity. Many people may find it embarrassing to walk into a village office and ask for coupons. With the new system, they can take the coupons themselves. Nobody should go hungry because of this reason,” Ahammed says.

The district collector is content with the results the initiative has borne since its inception and is careful not to credit himself for the success of the initiative.

“Operation Sulaimani is a community-driven initiative. The cause is genuine and so are the people’s efforts. That is the biggest strength that has helped us sustain the initiative,” Prasanth told The News Minute.

When something is done out of emotional commitment rather than imposing it on the people as a rule that needs to be followed, the initiative is bound to receive supporters, the collector believes.

Though regular review meetings are held with the hotel staff and other volunteers, Prasanth says that a dedicated “motivation drive” is not required in the case of Operation Sulaimani.

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