MONROVIA – Mr. Upjit Singh Sachdeva knows all about the catastrophic consequences of hunger. As a kid growing up in India, he saw how hunger left many devastated. This strengthened his resolve to do something about eradicating hunger whenever he had the means and wherever it exists.
So, decades later, when he had the chance to do something, he cooked up a plan to combat hunger, not in India but in Liberia where he has lived most of his adulthood as a business tycoon. He has even declared Liberia as his second home, publicly and has wished that the day he is called to go back to his Creator, he wants to be cremated in Liberia.
Mr. Sachdeva’s, who is more popularly known in Liberia as “Jeety,” plan involves the regular distribution of hot, well-prepared cooked meals to some of the country’s poor and vulnerable families and at-risk youth. These groups of Liberians are food-insecure and Jeety’s daily meal serves as a social safety net for them while alleviating their short-term hunger pang.
The hot plate of delicious Liberian home-made meal is often served with a sachet of water, a box of juice, and sometimes a bottle of soda (soft drink), benefiting over 500 persons a day, many of whom struggle to make ends meet and are living way below the poverty belt of a dollar a day.
“You see, hunger is a result of some unfortunate situations that many find themselves living in. There is no greater happiness than being able to give back to society. People should not go to bed hungry; if all of us who have the means to help, do something,” Mr. Sachdeva told journalists a fortnight ago.
“Therefore, I have a moral responsibility to help the best way I can, particularly tackling hunger among the less privileged and those that are at risk. Life is hard but harder for many of us who live in abject poverty and hardly make enough to get an evening meal.”
During the early evening hours, from Sunday to Sunday, the young and old, mainly young men, troop in their numbers to Jeety’s feeding place in Vai Town on the Bushrod Island, to get a bowl of hot meal to eat.
Jeety launched his Home-Cooked Hot Meal Program in February 2017 to help alleviate the high rate of hunger and poverty in Liberia.
Since its inauguration, the program has provided meals to over 3.5M Liberians, including less fortunate, visually impaired, inmates, old folks, and disadvantaged youths commonly known as “zogos”, among others. It gained prominence during the first outbreak of the Coronavirus in Liberia in March 2020.
His task is immense as food insecurity and hunger in Liberia remain a severe problem, according to statistics from Global Hunger Index (GHI).
The Index’s 2021 ranking of Liberia, classified the country’s level of hunger as ‘serious’ on grounds that Liberia is ranked 110 of 116 countries on hunger conditions. According to Action Against Hunger (AAH), an international NGO, 1.6 million out of an estimated population of five million people, are hungry.
Among children less than five years old, 30 percent are stunted and three percent are acutely malnourished and the COVID_19 pandemic exacerbated vulnerabilities across the country, the NGO said.
However, Jeety seemed not deterred by the strains that Covid brought along with it on businesses. In as much as some of the strains are still present, he continues his drive to fight hunger among some of the Liberia’s poor and less-privileged, doubling the project, which has been running since February of 2017, a bowl of meal at a time.
His efforts heightened during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic when food insecurity hit most households as people were locked down for several weeks. He fed those who could not afford on their own a hot, cooked meal across almost the entire Montserrado County. His gesture touched and still touches the lives of inmates and staffs in prison compounds, medical practitioners, including nurses at various hospitals and Covid Treatment Units (CTU), as well as providing meals to patients who were in need of it.
Up to this day, he still feeds prisoners at Liberia’s largest prison facilities, Monrovia Central Prison, and sometimes takes his feeding team outside Monrovia to also do feeding to other inmates. In addition, he supplies some government hospitals with food daily. One public medical facility that gets food from him daily is the Redemption Hospital in the Borough of New Kru Town, along the Atlantic Ocean.
“It is everyone’s responsibility to strive to solve societal problems. I am liberated while trying to help. I see it as devotion and I think I have not done much. I need to go beyond urban areas and I hope to see.”
“If others can devote their little resources to other important societal issues, I should do same, too. It is about inspiring others after you have been inspired. In the soonest time, I am going to primarily devote my entire life focusing on providing meals for the hungry. All I am trying to do is God’s work.”
In addition to the daily feeding he does in and around Monrovia, he has now extended this aspect of his humanitarianism to Weala, another impoverished town more than 75 kms away from Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia.
“I will in the future increase the number of feeding days to seven. At the moment, I am feeding three times a week in Weala.”
While Mr. Sachdeva is yet to touch the entire country, his philanthropic efforts have not gone unnoticed by the nation.
The Golden Image Award, one of the country’s highest civilian honors, just a few months ago, bestowed upon him one of its top awards, with an emphasis on making leaps in the philanthropic spheres locally.
His honor comes in the national level category of Humanity and, according to the award secretariat, following thorough research and vetting of his work — indicating the impact on the lives of people. He was the 2022 Recipient and Winner of the National Humanitarian Award.
The US State Department also in its 2021 Report highlighted his efforts towards combating hunger among inmates at the Monrovia Central Prison as well as restoring electricity and fixing the prison facility’s sanitation systems.
“The Bureau of Corrections and Rehabilitation, with the assistance of Mr. Sachdeva, who is also an Indian business tycoon in Liberia, undertook the renovation of the Monrovia Central Prison, which included the installation of 2,500-liter poly tanks for water storage along with a generator for the supply of water during a power outage,” the US State Department report stated.
The US Embassy’s acknowledgment came after the government of Liberia had commended Jeety, who is the immediate past former Honorary Consul General of India in Liberia, for his philanthropic work, which is helping to alleviate hunger among some of the country’s poor populations.
Meanwhile, Mr. Sachdeva has called on Liberia’s large commercial companies to set aside portions of their profits to support charitable causes, as the country grapples with a slew of issues that are straining government’s finances.
The Sikh devotee believes that every big corporation in the country should make it a requirement to contribute a percentage of their revenues to charitable causes such as poverty reduction, hunger relief, disaster assistance, education, and women and girls’ empowerment.
He went on to say that large and successful firms should acknowledge that it is their moral obligation to assist make the country a better place by addressing societal concerns through charitable projects.