By Praveen Kumar Arul (YES 2022-2023, India, placed by World Link in Woodland Park, CO)
An idea from my brother was the spark that led to my idea to launch a fundraising activity for people in Syria affected by the recent earthquake. My project idea had 2 parts: Teaching students at my host school how to cook Indian food (Biriyani and Raita), and raising funds by cooking Indian meals for my teachers and school staff members and delivering it to their classrooms.
My first step in bringing the project to fruition was to contact our school Athletic/Academic coordinator and explain my passion for doing this project. He was so interested and excited about this project and he told me that he would talk to the administration. Then my project got approved by the school administration.
My local coordinator helped me get some art supplies to make posters and flyers I could hang all around the school. I spoke to my school coordinator about my idea of raising additional funds by cooking for the teachers and delivering the food to their classrooms. He was impressed with the idea and gave me permission to move ahead. He also told me that the school would be happy to sponsor the funds for the required amount of ingredients and other materials to cook the food. This was so generous!
I set up a table in the cafeteria for the students to sign up for my cooking class. I only got 5 students for the first two days, but I did not lose my hope. I created a survey for the teachers and staff, including a brief description of the dishes that I would be cooking for them, and received 17 responses for day one. During the whole week, my friends and I were working on signing up as many students as possible. We spoke to them in person about the cause and the benefits (tasting real Indian food because there are no Indian restaurants in my town). I advertised my event during the school announcements and signed up students through my basketball team. By the end of the week, 46 students had signed up and the final number was 56 students and 40 teachers!
The first day was the biggest and the most important day of this whole project because I had a very big duty of cooking 48 meals (I cooked 8 extra meals) for the teachers all by myself. I have never cooked for this many people ever, so it was a very big challenge for me. I chopped around 33 onions, 26 tomatoes, and 8 carrots for all the recipes combined. I also marinated around 15 pounds of chicken!
All the students were so engaged and enthusiastic! They got so involved in all the cooking -- stirring the onions and adding meat, tomatoes, rice, and all the other spices. It really made me happy. My biryani dish was cooked and served on plates to the students with Raita and they loved it. Next we had to pull the big pans out from the oven and pack them in lunch boxes so they could be delivered to the teachers. My friends and my teacher, Mrs. Rogers, helped me a lot with packing and delivery. The teachers really enjoyed the food, and I was proud that my efforts weren’t in vain. We had some extra meals, so I sold them to the students for $5 during lunch.
After delivering the food, we cleaned up and counted our donations. The first day we collected $730 total! The next day’s cooking session was much better because I was less nervous and got more sleep! We played some Indian music while cooking and it was really fun. They also tasted the chili powder which made them cry and it was so funny. They liked the food and asked for the recipe.
After the whole project was done, we raised $803 dollars for Syrian earthquake victims. It was a roller coaster of an experience, and I loved doing this project for Global Youth Service Day. Thank you for giving me this great opportunity. Thank you for everyone in my host community who helped me implement this project. I am looking forward to doing more projects in the future. I would like to end this with my favorite saying by Nelson Mandela, "It always seems impossible until it's done."