Ending Hunger, One Food ATM Dispense At A Time: Ayesha Khan's Story

The fundamental necessities of food, shelter, and hygiene are universal rights every individual, regardless of their wealth or privilege, should have access to. Unfortunately, the reality is far from this ideal. According to the United Nations, a staggering 821 million people worldwide are currently grappling with hunger, equating to one in every nine individuals on our planet who do not have access to adequate nutrition.

While there are commendable efforts being made by individuals and organisations to combat hunger and malnutrition, there are inspiring individuals like Ayesha Khan, a UAE resident from Indian, who have embarked on a mission to provide food to those in need. 

Ayesha Khan, an engineer by profession, left her job to embark on the journey of Food ATM. This registered organisation operates from two locations in Ajman, one in Sharjah and one in Ras Al Khaimah, and offers affordable meals to blue-collar workers in need.

Officially launched in 2019, Food ATM serves meals priced from a mere 50 fils to Dhs 3, catering to individuals with limited income. Yet, it's important to understand that the genesis of this remarkable project wasn't a sudden occurrence. Ayesha Khan graciously shares the story behind the inception of Food ATM and how this incredible journey all began.

"At the tender age of 17, I faced the heartbreaking loss of my father, and during those challenging times, financial stability was a distant dream. I experienced moments where I had to make choices between purchasing books and putting food on the table. The pangs of hunger I endured became the driving force behind my determination to instigate a positive change in society. 

I opted to leverage my knowledge by working part-time to support both myself and my family. However, it was glaringly evident that many people across the world lacked access to such educational privileges, making their struggle to survive much more difficult. It was during those trying times I made a commitment, that one day, when I achieved a position of influence, I would be a provider. I would extend a helping hand by ensuring that those in need who couldn't afford three meals a day, would have access to nourishment." 

Ayesha Khan's unwavering dedication and tireless efforts culminated in the inception of Food ATM in 2019. The journey was marked by its share of challenges, especially in the initial year when the concept was met with limited understanding. However, it was the onset of the pandemic that underscored the importance of affordable food, and since then, there's no looking back. 

In 2021, through a collaborative effort between Nefsy Portal, Tarahum Organisation, UAE Food Bank, and Food ATM, an astonishing milestone was achieved. Together, they secured a place in the Guinness World Records by delivering over 50,000 community meals in just 8 hours, leaving an indelible mark of compassion and achievement.

Underlining this remarkable achievement, Ayesha Khan remarked, "In 2022, we received recognition from the United Nations Global Compact, and as of today, I am honoured to serve as a member of the board of directors for UNGC UAE."

Ayesha Khan's current objective is to establish at least one Food ATM in every emirate, and she aspires to accomplish this within the next two years. As of now, the UAE boasts four Food ATM branches, each offering a diverse menu of wholesome and nutritious meals.

With options priced at Dhs 1, individuals can choose from a selection that includes sandwiches, salads, pasta, noodles, samosas, and pakoras. For Dhs 2, there are choices like vegetarian meat, thick mango shakes, corn flakes chaat, and fish fry. Stepping up to Dhs 3, the offerings extend to include dishes like chicken biryani, pulao, vegetable and non-vegetable sabji with roti and paratha. The Dhs 3 meals are accompanied by a complimentary water bottle and a small gift. Lastly, for a mere 50 fils, patrons can savour items such as tea, coffee, buttermilk, popcorn, and naan khataai, providing a range of affordable and satisfying options for everyone.

Food ATM is steadfast in its commitment to delivering top-notch, nutritious food without any compromise on quality. However, the challenge lies in the escalating costs of raw materials, which seem to surge with each passing quarter, while people's incomes remain relatively stagnant. The post-pandemic era has worsened this already challenging situation. Hence, to address this financial strain, Food ATM has made necessary adjustments to its meal offerings. 

Elaborating further on this matter, Ayesha Khan expressed, "Food ATM's primary mission is to combat hunger, and our goal is to ensure that no one goes to bed hungry due to the high cost of food. In response to the escalating expenses, we've made strategic menu changes, such as substituting exotic vegetables and meats with more cost-effective options like chicken, boiled eggs, mixed vegetables, and others.

This enables us to minimise expenditures on raw materials while continuing to offer hot, wholesome, and high-quality meals to individuals with limited incomes, all within the price range of 50 fils to Dhs 3. Our ultimate aim is to nourish both stomachs and hearts, all without compromising on quality. My dedicated team and I are wholeheartedly committed to this cause."

Ayesha Khan's mission is undeniably praiseworthy, serving as a source of inspiration for all of us to contribute to our society. Ayesha Khan, in fact, encourages individuals to provide a meal to someone in need on a daily basis. She emphasises that we need not wait for changes in laws or society to initiate these actions; it all begins on an individual level. 

Ayesha firmly believes that every person should play their part and extend a helping hand to at least one person in need every day. Through these modest efforts, she believes that we can collectively address the global hunger crisis, one compassionate gesture at a time.

In her closing message, Ayesha Khan appeals the youth of today to recognise that our planet is our sole home. She believes that with the right attitude, we can not only minimise food wastage but also effectively address the issue of hunger. Ayesha encourages every child in every household to conscientiously consume food according to their capacity and avoid wastage. Additionally, she urges parents to play a pivotal role in imparting the significance of not squandering food to their children.

She firmly believes that the world can indeed become a better place, but this can only happen if the present generation comprehends the role they can play in making a positive difference.

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