Many people have expressed an interest in The Prem Rawat Foundation’s (TPRF) model program, Food for People (FFP), whose first facility in Bantoli, India, was inaugurated almost three years ago. This 10,000 square-foot facility is located in a very rural area in northeastern India and has become a central part of the life and well-being of several villages in the area. TPRF president, Linda Pascotto, has recently returned from a visit to this facility, and we’re happy to share with you her interview with the Inspire staff.

Food for People
Please tell us about your recent visit to the Food for People facility in India.
I was in New Delhi and realized that I had just enough time for a quick “unofficial” visit to the Food for People facility, which is located about an hour-and-a-half drive from the Ranchi airport in Jharkhand. From the moment I got into the car, I felt I was being taken into a completely different world from the one I live in, with all that was familiar fading rapidly away as my expert driver navigated rough roads that became increasingly narrow and more rutted, weaving and swerving to avoid hitting other vehicles, people, cows, goats, and chickens, and always moving at great speed whenever he could. 
What prompted TPRF to create a facility like this?
This program is the result of Prem Rawat’s vision to help people in need in a way that would offer them a chance to live independent lives in dignity. Several years ago, when he flew by helicopter to this area to speak at events, village children would crowd around the landing site. On one visit, Prem Rawat invited the children to come and see the helicopter close up. He noticed that, although they seemed well cared for and happy, they were very, very thin. He did some research and found that these indigenous Indians had been pushed back into an arid, rocky land in northeast India where it was very difficult to eke out a living. Through the years, they had adapted as best they could but often went hungry because of the limited food available, and they suffered from a variety of illnesses common in such rural areas. Often young children had to work in exchange for food, particularly when one or both parents were too sick to work themselves. He was touched by the shy smiles and curiosity of these malnourished children, and he wanted to help them.
Food for People
What was your first impression when you came to see a meal in progress?
I noticed that a large group of children arrived an hour early so they could watch more of the educational television programs that are shown daily during mealtime. FFP is the only building with electricity in the area, and they are drawn to the big-screen television with pictures and stories of things they would never be able to imagine. The children walked in from all directions and then, after their meal, left for school in small groups of pals with arms linked, vivacious and happy. They had eaten a meal they really liked and had been exposed to something that fascinated them. Life was good.
Tell us about life in these villages and what difference Food for People has made.
There are eight villages that use the FFP facility. Some villagers have to walk at least three miles to get there. I visited the nearest village late one afternoon, along with two local FFP administrators from our partner organization in India, Premsagar Foundation. A cluster of mud houses about half a mile from FFP, the village was the most rural community I have visited in India. Adults were performing their end-of-day activities, some carrying home baskets of food from small plots of land where they grow what food they can, and children were scattered around playing in the narrow lanes between their homes.
It looked like a normal village scene. Later, however, I found out that during the two-and-a-half years FFP has been open, it has made a big difference to the whole community. The villagers’ lives have gradually improved: There is more understanding of good hygiene, and, as a result, less illness. Adults are working more regularly, providing food for themselves and their families in the evenings, and the children are now attending school consistently.
Food for People
How has the program changed over time in response to the villagers’ needs?
The program adjusts to the villagers’ needs under the guidance of the village elders. For many months, we provided two meals each day for children and one meal a day for adults who were too ill to work. As the health of the adults improved, they spent their days working and stopped coming for food. At this point, they decided that they preferred to have the evening meal, meager as it was, at home with their families. So food is now served only once a day to the children, the sick, and the elderly. The time of the daily meal varies with the seasonal changes of the school schedule. The village elders determine the time that works best for those benefiting from the program.
Did you have a chance to speak with any of the children, their parents, or the elders? If so, what did they say to you?
Yes, it was fun to speak to the children and some of the parents. At first, they were shy around me, a stranger who was tall and blonde and didn’t speak their language. But through a translator, the children were soon bubbling with enthusiastic comments about how much they liked the food, smiling happily as they spoke about their favorites. Rice, subgee, or dahl were mentioned repeatedly. It was clear that the nature programs and other educational television shows were extremely popular as well. With few words, parents expressed that the daily meals brought better health and stability to the children’s lives.
What does FFP offer beyond a healthy meal for the day?
After talking to both villagers and administrators, I began to appreciate what a big difference being able to rely on healthy food, clean water, and a regular schedule really made. The consistent FFP meal structures the day in many ways, and it makes regular school attendance the norm. Hygiene, fresh water (often toted home in small quantities), and an orderly process for getting food and eating together are examples of fundamentals that were missing in the children’s lives before. So while they may not even notice, children now have a certain stability in their lives, which, in addition to nutritious food, opens the door to new possibilities in education and future work.
Also, some adult villagers work in the facility, not only earning money for their family’s needs, but learning hygiene, skills of food preparation, and organization. Others work in the fields owned by the facility, where much of the food is grown. They learn good methods for successful farming. What staples are not grown on the land are purchased from the local markets, and this helps the local economy.
For the children, the educational TV shows offer the only contact they have with other people, animals, landscapes, and ways of life outside the world of their very isolated villages. And with this view comes the possibility of considering further education and new opportunities. Walking or riding an old bicycle on rutted roads is the only transportation these rural people have. The villages are scattered throughout the area and are several miles apart from each other and even further from larger villages. Cities are completely out of reach for almost everyone.
Food for People
It sounds as though FFP is playing a significant role in the possibility of a more hopeful future for these people.
There has certainly been progress toward that goal, but it isn’t one that will be reached quickly. The pace is slow and change is slow, but in the relatively short time the facility has been opened, one can already see a difference. Children and adults have gained weight and are healthier. Some of the children are beginning to think about continuing their education beyond the elementary level available locally, even if it means living away from home.
FFP has clearly had a successful beginning. Is the Foundation planning to build facilities in other places based on this model?
TPRF and its partner, Premsagar Foundation Nepal, have begun building a new facility in a rural area in Nepal. Some of the Nepalese people who are involved in the project have visited the FFP facility in Bantoli to understand more about how to run this type of program and to see for themselves the high standards that need to be achieved.
TPRF hopes to continue building facilities like this in other areas. We have come to understand that Prem Rawat’s vision to provide people in need with nutritious meals of the local cuisine is a way to help people prosper naturally and with dignity. With better health and more education, the children are growing up with many opportunities for their future. The cycle of poverty is being replaced with the possibility of a future that they could not have imagined before Food for People came to their area. It is heartening and rewarding to be part of this unique model program.