BY RATTAN MALL
TRIPLETS Vishnu, Abhay and Aditi Katyal, Grade 12 students of Vancouver’s prestigious West Point Grey Academy, went on a two-week trip to the Dominican Republic last March to teach English. And the poverty and malnutrition the 17-year-olds encountered there, inspired them to start a foundation to fight hunger in Lower Mainland schools.
Their BreakFirst Foundation aims to provide funding to schools that have either lost their funding or have inadequate funds to start a breakfast program. “As current organizations are not able to reach all those affected, it is important that we do our part to ensure every child in BC has access to a healthy breakfast,” Vishnu explained. Their very first program started this past month at Delta’s McCloskey Elementary.
Talking about the malnutrition they saw in Dominican Republic, Vishnu told the VOICE: “Travelling to a developing country like the Dominican Republic and seeing the effects of child malnutrition firsthand was an eye-opening experience. There was not much we could do there; so upon our return [we decided to start a foundation]. We realized that hunger was not only an issue that existed oceans away, but rather, something that was happening mere meters from our own home.”
When Vishnu was in Grade 10, he participated in the YPI (Youth Philanthropy Initiative). “It was a school project. We pick a local grassroot charity and presented our case to win a $5,000 grant. One team out of 10 won the competition. I picked Backpack Buddies which fights weekend hunger and throughout that process learnt about malnutrition in Vancouver,” he elaborated.
“I already knew a little bit, but then what really inspired my siblings and I to make a difference was the Dominican Republic trip as we saw the toll empty stomachs were having on the elementary school kids.” he added.
Back in April, the Katyals started the process of establishing a charity with brainstorming and information sessions by reaching out to experienced professionals in their community.
But right away they came across a big hurdle. “We received a lot of pushback. We tried to email a lot of schools, but no one would respond because we were just 17-year-old kids” he said.
All three kids got on the phones, making countless calls and setting meetings in person in the hope of fundraising for this cause. “We had to explain our reasoning, our inspiration, and the reason why we were coming to them for money. It was hard to fundraise through other means without being a fully registered charity. However, we were able to collect $10,000 from our inner circle and other members of our community.” Vishnu explained.
So they finally reached out to the Progressive Intercultural Community Services (PICS) Society that helped them find a school in Delta: McCloskey Elementary. The program currently includes 10-15 kids and each month they are going to add more students.
Meanwhile, they have started the process of registering their charity with Canada Revenue Agency.
“The process takes a long time. We spent some time registering just the name,” Vishnu said. He hopes to raise substantial funds once their BreakFirst Foundation gets accreditation from the CRA.
The future seems bright for this initiative as the Katyals are looking to adopt another school soon, with more to come in the foreseeable future.
“We hope to continue this local effort besides where our academic endeavours may take us,” Vishnu said.