The Akshaya Patra Foundation implements the mid-day meal programme in more than 9000 Government schools across 19 locations of 9 states. Its operation is spread across urban, semi-urban and rural settings. Every day the Foundation serves mid-day meal to 1.3 million children across India. To keep up the stability and continuity of providing food to the needy children it employs two kinds of kitchen set up- Centralized kitchen and Decentralized kitchen. Centralized kitchens are technologically equipped and are feasible for urban and semi-urban setting whereas Decentralized kitchens act as a vein to intervene into the rural and remote locations like Baran and Nayagarh.
The Decentralized kitchens of Akshaya Patra employ local women as kitchen staff. The women self-help group are engaged in the entire kitchen process and earn a regular livelihood. This has helped in empowering the rural women of Rajasthan and Odisha. Akshaya Patra provides mid-day meals to more than 14,000 children in over 150 Government schools in the district of Baran. Here are a few anecdotes of women employees of Akshaya Patra’s decentralized kitchen in Baran district of Rajasthan.
Prem Bai is a resident of Baansthuli village of Baran district in Rajasthan. Six years ago she got employed by Akshaya Patra as a cook in its decentralized kitchen at Baran. Today, she cooks food for more than 100 students. A mother of three children she says, “I studied until Class II when I was young. That’s all, but I always wanted to study more.” She goes on to say, “When I am done with cooking and distribution of meals, I sit near the class and learn what the teacher teaches. Back home I read my children’s books. Today I can read a newspaper without any difficult”.
Kanti Bai and Lalita Bai of the adjacent Rampuriya village, also earn their livelihood as employees of Akshaya Patra’s decentralized kitchen. They cook mid-day meal for the students of a nearby school. Kanti Bai adds that they also receive lessons from the Foundation on basic sanitation and hygiene. She says, “We now insist that children also wash hands before eating”.
In continuation, R. Govinda Dasa, Unit President, The Akshaya Patra Foundation, Rajasthan said, “We have decentralized kitchens in the tribal regions of Odisha, Rajasthan and Mathura district where we employ women to cook the locally available food”.