Poonam Kaushal and Nishkaam Mehta of Santa Monica, California, are getting married today on Valentine’s Day. But instead of throwing a lavish ceremony, the couple is donating the budget for their wedding to feed hungry children in Africa.
“The notion of a big, traditional Indian wedding didn’t really feel like it fit us,” Kaushal told local station KABC-TV on Monday.
Kaushal and Mehta are forgoing the traditional week-long Indian wedding for a civil ceremony so they can put the money toward a cause they care about: Feeding children in Cameroon who have been forced to flee Boko Haram violence.
Boko Haram has killed at least 20,000 people and displaced more than 2.6 million since launching an Islamic insurgency in northeast Nigeria in 2009. Over the years, the homegrown terrorist group transformed into a regional movement that spread its attacks across the border into neighboring countries such as Niger, Chad and Cameroon.
Tens of thousands of people fleeing the violence have poured into nearby nations. Nearly 200,000 people are internally displaced in Cameroon’s Far North Region, mainly due to the Boko Haram insurgency, according to a report by the International Organization for Migration in November 2016.
Mehta, a pediatrician, said she has seen firsthand the irreversible and devastating impact that hunger has on children, both abroad and in their local community.
“For 50 cents you can give a day’s rations to a child in a conflict zone,” Mehta told KABC-TV.
Kaushal and Mehta first met in college in 2003. He popped the question in September 2016.
Last month, the couple launched a campaign #MillionMealsForLove and encouraged their family, friends and the community to help them raise enough money to fund a million school meals in Cameroon by Valentine’s Day, their wedding day.
“We start talking about our marriage and how we want our wedding to reflect the kind of lives we hope to lead. But we couldn’t ignore what was happening all around us,” Kaushal says in the couple’s #MillionMealsForLove campaign video. “2016 was a difficult year for a lot of people, especially children.”
Kaushal and Mehta donated the first 40,000 meals through the World Food Program’s Share the Meal app using their $20,000 wedding budget.
“What money we would have spent on our wedding, by putting it into something that’s not just for one day, these school meals, they’re providing nourishment for a year,” Kaushal told KABC-TV.
Kaushal and Mehta said they wanted to start their life together by helping others and the donation was a way to honor their love. The couple said they hoped their act of kindness has also inspired others.
“Children that don’t have a voice and they don’t have advocates, so to be able to bring awareness to that, for us, has been deeply fulfilling,” Kaushal told KABC-TV. “We have the ability and the choice that we can actually do for others, even with significant life milestones, whatever is within our means.”