A graduate from the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad, Purnota Dutta Bahl had always thought of herself as the typical career woman and saw herself in a leadership role at a top MNC. But, life had other plans, leading her on a completely different path. She went on to found the Cuddles Foundation, an organisation that provides nutrition support for children with cancer. It was recently bestowed with the National Award for Child Welfare by the President of India.
“It started off on a micro level,” Purnota says, explaining how the journey took off. “I used to regularly donate a small amount for this purpose to a government hospital in Mumbai. One day, when I went to visit, I saw a little girl who reminded me so much of my own daughter. They both were of the same age and it struck me then that it could very well have been my daughter in her place. This made me want to contribute much more than what I was doing on a personal level. So, I started involving family and friends. Eventually, more and more people showed interest, and after a year, I decided to start Cuddles,” she says.
While there are many organisations working for the treatment of cancer patients and quite a lot of donations pour in for it, Purnota feels that not enough attention is given to the importance of nutrition in children with cancer. “The foundation was started in 2012 and is now providing nutrition support to around 18,000 children with cancer in 17 hospitals across nine cities in India. In Hyderabad, we have tied up with the Nizam Hospital. The reason that the organisation grew to be so large just within four years, is the same as why it won the national award — the cause, which was extremely important but nobody was taking up,” she says, further explaining why it is so important. “Nutrition is the basic necessity for any person, and especially so for children with cancer. We may have all the funds to start them on chemotherapy, but if the child does not have enough nutrition in his/her body, they will not be able to handle the treatment and so, we cannot administer it to them.”
It wasn’t easy for Purnota to give up her high paying job to found Cuddles. “It was difficult, but I felt that the cause found me. My business degree also helps me run the organisation well. There was an 11-year-old boy with cancer, Nandu, who was abandoned by his parents in the hospital. But, he was so motivated to get better, that he would do odd jobs in a factory nearby to earn money. Cuddles adopted his nutrition and gave him a ration so he didn’t have to go to the factory anymore. He’s now cured, and goes to school. It is stories like these that give me the energy to wake up every morning and do everything I can for the cause,” she says and adds that winning the award was like a validation of the niche area that the foundation was working on. “It was a great feeling and very humbling. It also means that now, the organisation has a lot more responsibility on its shoulders.”