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Discussion Room

Come together to reduce Maternal Mortality

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11th April, 2015 is a Saturday. While this is enough to make most of us happy, there is another reason to be glad. It is also National Safe Motherhood Day, a day dedicated to raise awareness on the issues and importance of women’s health especially during the times of pregnancy and beyond.

This event came into being in 1999 with the support of The White Ribbon Alliance (WRA), to ‘ensure that all women realise their right to be safe and healthy before, during and after childbirth’, and has been picking up momentum ever since.

Improving maternal health in India is an immediate need, one that has been taken up in a large way through recent years. In fact, the Maternal Mortality Ratio has been successfully reduced from 212 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2007-09, to 178 in 2010-12, and further to 167 in 2011-13 according to the The Office of the Registrar General, India – Sample Registration System (the SRS is India’s largest demographic survey). However, in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals, India has to achieve a target MMR of 140 per 100,000 live births by the end of 2015.

Therefore community participation in solving this issue is crucial. The theme chosen by WRA India for 2015 is ‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ – Citizens participation and engagement for improving women’s and children’s health. This can include framing policies, running/volunteering for programmes that improve the health of women and children, raising awareness among women of the best practices to follow, donating to institutions that support this cause and much more.

Akshaya Patra too works towards improving the health of pregnant and lactating mothers by providing meals at Anganwadis in Jaipur. Currently the Foundation feeds almost 6,000 women across 298 centers in Jaipur every day. This ensures that during this crucial period of their lives, these women have access to sufficient, nutritious food that keeps them and their new born healthy and strong.

Tell us what you think should be done to ensure safe motherhood for women? Leave us a comment below.

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Discussion Room

Empowering through Education

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In 2011-12, India’s poverty rate had declined to a record 22 per cent, a steep drop from 45 per cent in 1994. However, according to the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), in 2012 about 56 per cent of the population was still in deprivation of the eight basic needs – food, energy, housing, drinking water, sanitation, health care, education, and social security.

This indicates that our next aim as a developing country has to be moving towards the empowerment of the society as a whole, and what better way than starting with the future generation?

Poverty is a huge impediment to the empowerment of a country’s citizens, and often breeds a cycle of hopelessness and unrest. Fortunately, this problem in India can be solved through education, we believe. Our motive behind providing the midday meal to underserved children in India is not just to provide them with a healthy childhood, but to also encourage the new generation to attend school. Together, through programmes like the mid-day meal scheme, we can eliminate classroom hunger in India and empower our generations to come.

Do you believe that education is the key to ending poverty and empowering the citizens of India? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.

– By Nitish Sahay

(Intern from Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies)

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Discussion Room

5 complexities of India’s hunger problem

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We all want to end child hunger. That’s a no brainer. When we look around and see those under-served, we all yearn for a world where there is enough food for everyone. But hunger is a very complex problem, especially in a country like India.

Here are some elements that need to be considered for us to create a reliable strategy against hunger.

Lack of fresh data – The last reliable data on the weight and height for children and adults, critical in determining the malnutrition levels of the country, were issued a decade ago, in 2005-06.

However the situation is on the mend with the National Family Health Survey scheduled for release at the end of next year. In the interim, UNICEF and the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development have conducted the ‘Rapid Survey on Children’ for more information.

Recognising Hidden Hunger – It is vital to combat not just under nutrition, but micro-nutrient deficiencies too. Hidden Hunger, which is the chronic deficiency of crucial vitamins and minerals, affects an estimated two billion people worldwide.

The role of myths and superstition – Social myths about health practices (in rural and tribal regions especially) can get in the way of administering medication that fights malnutrition and vitamin deficiencies. Educating mothers, fathers and in-laws can be an effective way to overcome superstition and nutrient deficiencies together.

Children of tribals and other minorities – The children of minority communities are often the most deprived. Stamped with social stigma and lacking access to nutrition, the children from these sections are usually nutritionally deficient.

In fact, according to a 2009 report by the NNMB (National Nutrition Monitoring Bureau) on the Diet and Nutritional Status of Tribal Population covered across 9 states of India on children of the age group of 1-5, 52 per cent were malnourished, from which 20 per cent were severely malnourished.

Developing an interim plan – All our concerted efforts are working to turn the tide against child hunger in India. Meanwhile, we need an interim plan of how to support children and their families financially and medically, provide sustainable nutrition, education, and be their support system in this period of change and development.

These are some of our thoughts on India’s ‘hungerscape’. We’d love to know if you have something to add to this list. Let us know by commenting below.

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Discussion Room

India’s Millenium Development Goals: A semi-success story

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We are now less than 450 days from the deadline to the completion of the Millenium Development Goals, and it’s time to take stock of where India stands in achieving these, and make a final push towards victory. The Millenium Development Goals were agreed upon in a declaration made in the year 2000, and signed by over 189 countries across the world. Out of 8 goals this article will focus on the first two which are critical to India’s progress and closely related to Akshaya Patra’s cause.

The first goal is to eradicate extreme hunger and poverty. This goal has two targets through which it can be achieved. The first target is to ‘halve between 1990 and 2015 the proportion of people whose income is less than one dollar a day.’ The progress made towards achieving this target can be judged across three indicators:

  • Poverty head count ratio (This is the percentage of the population below the national poverty line)
  • Poverty gap ratio
  • Share of poorest quintile in national consumption

Poverty rates in India dropped from 45% in 1994 to 34% in 2005, and according to the latest NSS survey (National Sample Survey) it has further dropped by 5% from 2005 to 2010. So it is clear that India has made some progress in reaching for this target, but there’s some way to go yet.

The second target is to ‘Halve between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people who suffer from hunger.’ The indicator to measuring progress of this target is:

  • Prevalence of underweight children under three years of age

In this India has made less progress. With malnourishment estimated at 52% in 1990, India needs to reduce it to 26% by 2015. However in the stretch from 1999 to 2006, the malnourishment rate declined by only 3% from 43% to 40%. Unless a concentrated effort is made to achieve this target, at the current rate of decline India will have a 33% rate of malnourishment by 2015.

The second crucial goal is to achieve universal primary education. India aims to achieve this through the target of ensuring that ‘by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to complete a full course of primary education.’ The indicators to measure this target are:

  • Net enrolment ratio in primary education
  • Proportion of students starting grade I who will reach grade V
  • Literacy rate of 15 to 24 year olds

With respect to this goal India has had tremendous success. According to the Net Enrolment Ratio (NER) and DISE (District Information System on Education), in 2009-10 India had an enrolment score of 98.3%. These figures make it highly likely that India will achieve its target of ensuring 100% NER for boys and girls well before 2015!

However it is in implementing the second target, of increasing the number of children continuing in primary school from grade I to grade V that India is struggling. As can be seen from the table after an initial burst, sustained primary school enrolment has been fluctuating in recent years.

1999  ⇒  62%
2002  ⇒  81%
2004  ⇒  73%
2008  ⇒  72%
2009  ⇒  76%

However, more good news is that India is also looking at a high probability of achieving 100% youth literacy (literacy rate of 15-24 year olds) by 2015. According to the NSS in 2007-08 alone the urban literacy rate stood at 93% and the rural at 83%.

These figures are inspiring and daunting at the same time. However with only a little more than a year to go it’s time to decide what the world’s next step should be in this battle against poverty, malnutrition and illiteracy. The suggestions outlined by the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals for the next 15 years provide a way forward, but it is up to each of us, each country, and each Government to translate these endeavours into success.

Source: Millenium Development Goals India Country Report 2011 – http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/library/MDG/english/MDG%20Country%20Reports/India/MDG_India_2011.pdf

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Discussion Room

Social media and NGOs: Building a brand on a budget

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In the last several years social media has taken the world by storm. Not restricted to a particular age group or ethnicity, social media has succeeded in the allowing the world to connect in a way never seen before. Suddenly the world of communications has opened up surpassing geographical and technological barriers, and everyone is jumping on the bandwagon to take advantage of it.

But social media is possibly most advantageous to the corporate sector as it allows businesses a platform to spread their message, gain visibility and increase recall value amongst a massive audience.

NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) especially rely on social media heavily to gather support for their cause. Usually constrained by small budgets NGOs cannot spend heavily on advertising to spread awareness of their message and inspire donors to invest in their brand.

Social media has several distinct advantages for NGOs:

  • NGOs use their free social media profiles as an additional platform to keep their audience up-to-date on the latest information regarding their organisation/cause, but in a more vivacious, interesting manner than their corporate website.
  • Aside from illustrations and status updates, NGOs have also wholeheartedly embraced the powerful audio-visual medium to create inspiring and hard-hitting messages, that social media gives them a platform to promote.
  • To non-profit organisations social media is a cost-effective yet the most extensive medium to promote news and updates, invite engagement, build an audience and petition for funding all in one place.
  • Instead of needing to restrict their awareness campaigns to only one platform due to budgetary concerns, NGOs can tailor make their campaigns to suit multiple social media platforms like Facebook vs Flickr, reaching out to a diverse audience, across different interests, geographical locations and age groups.

With so much riding on the need to differentiate themselves from their competition, having a great social media strategy is crucial to a NGOs’ success. Today social media is on an upswing, with the world just discovering the many different ways it can be used to transform a business, propagate an idea, and above all incite change. In fact, with the advantages social media offers, it looks to be a god-send for the NGO industry.

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Discussion Room

Who bears the brunt of food wastage in India?

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About 40 per cent of fresh fruit and vegetable produce in India spoils before it even reaches consumers. This produce has to pass hands, surviving several levels of negotiation, and travel long distances to finally make it to the retailers. After all this, despite the thousands of tonnes of food already lost before we even see it, food wastage in India is a huge problem.

In the modern, plentiful world of the average middle class family, excessive buying has become almost compulsive. What cannot be consumed can be discarded, after all what’s a little food wasted? Unfortunately, it’s millions of people with this thought that has brought India to the crisis point it’s at today.

But this indiscriminate food wastage directly takes away from someone else’s sustenance. In reality every third of the world’s malnourished children comes from India. Children stay poor, illiterate, weak and unhealthy because they have no access to the nutrition they need to thrive. With so much starvation all around the country, it’s time to take stock of the situation and take immediate steps to remedy it. And in order to solve the problem, we need to first understand it.

Food wastage can happen at various stages. Poor agricultural practices lead to pest infestation and loss of crop, while climatic fluctuations can damage the harvest as well. During packing and storage, India especially suffers significantly. In fact food worth Rs. 44,000 crore a year is wasted in India due to poor storage infrastructure. Once the remaining food produce reaches the market, huge quantities are wasted in the day-to-day lives of the affluent. Cultural customs and gatherings like weddings, meetings and business conferences dictate mammoth quantities of food, much of which is wasted.

While several of these factors are beyond the control of the common man, it is vital that we each do our bit to reduce food wastage in India. Some simple practices that can contribute to solving India’s food wastage problem are:

  • Maintain well-functioning food storage facilities in your home
  • Purchase and cook only as much as you need
  • Donate any excess food to those in need

These measures will ensure more food for young children in need. By making food more accessible to children they will grow healthier and have the opportunity to focus on their education. Let’s break their cycle of hunger and poverty by stopping food wastage. Together we can #EndClassroomHunger in India.

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Discussion Room

Breaking the cycle: Addressing malnutrition in India

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According to the World Bank, India ranks amongst the highest countries with children suffering from malnutrition. Despite a rapidly growing economy, the disparity between the poor and the middle-class family in India grows wider, with young children all over the country taking up manual labour and dubious forms of income to earn enough for their daily meal.

Malnutrition affects children in different ways. Physically it stunts their development, reduces the efficiency of their immune system, and increases their risk of long term ailments and infections. Cognitively malnutrition decreases the ability to concentrate, and causes impaired learning skills and memory capacity. Socially malnutrition can cause reduced language development and social skills. Economically poverty keeps children and their families tied in a cycle of malnutrition that can continue for generations. Parents cannot afford to send their children to school because they need to contribute to the daily income, while children in turn grow up to be uneducated, predominantly unemployed, and lacking regular access to healthy food. It is this link between hunger and education that has helped perpetuate poverty in India.

Classroom hunger is a very real thing in India. Children who long to be educated may never see the inside of a classroom because of hunger. They cannot afford to spend a day studying when their family’s welfare depends on them contributing to the income. They cannot concentrate or analyse information when their bellies are starved of food.

The mid-day meal programme proposed by the Government of India, and taken up by NGOs across the country aims to address this issue of classroom hunger. By forming a public-private partnership with organisations like The Akshaya Patra Foundation, children are provided the free, tasty and nutritious mid-day meal at Government, and Government aided schools.

These meals act as an incentive for parents to send their children to school by relieving them of an extra mouth to feed, while it combats malnutrition in children and provides them with access to education at the same time. A study of the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal programme has shown how effective this initiative is. By gaining regular access to sufficient food, the children benefitting from the programme have shown better concentration in class and academic progress, more classroom attendance and school enrolment, and lower school dropout rates.

Though malnutrition is an insidious ailment eating away at India’s socio-economic progress, initiatives like the mid-day meal programme provide a viable means to cure the cause and not just the symptoms. With the concerted efforts of the Government of India, corporates, donors and other well-wishers, India can one day achieve a hunger free society.

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Discussion RoomFood and Education

Interview with Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa

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Excerpts from an interview with Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa:, Chairman of World’s largest NGO run School Meal Program, Akshaya Patra.

Question: Why the name Askhaya Patra to the mid-day meal program?

Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa: The divine vessel ‘Akshaya Patra’ of Mahabharata symbolizes unlimited portions that can feed countless mouths. But this ‘vessel’ sought a few willing human hearts, minds and hands to feed ONE MILLION everyday.

Question: To whom all do you attribute this success of feeding one million everyday?

Question: Why the name Askhaya Patra to the mid-day meal program? Cooks, cleaners, drivers, guards, supervisors, managers, donors, government authorities, advisors, board members and missionaries were all inspired and activated to make this possible.

Question: What really motivated you to initiate and make this movement so successful?
Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa: When we began we had not the slightest idea of this scale. But someone was watching within all of us and noted our wanting to do more and more and willing to battle everyday to beat the hurdles. He kept opening new paths , kept fanning our spirits , pushed us bit by bit up the scale of feeding more and more children month after month and year after year .

As His grace fell on a million children, we were graced with great lessons too. That, big things can be done when what is to be done is greater than all of us and that God helps those who help themselves, especially to help others beyond themselves. He gave that extra direction, that extra support, that extra determination and fanned the spark of desire to feed a blazing ONE MILLION! He took us that extra distance we never conceived of when we started. And He rewarded our humble efforts by fulfilling our ever growing dream. Blessed are we who could experience this.

Question: How do you think this movement will bear an effect on the society?

Question: Why the name Askhaya Patra to the mid-day meal program? One thing is certain from this experience. Boundless compassion is waiting to explode into this world to lessen the suffering provided we involve more and more willing human hearts, minds and hands to deliver His blessings upon many more millions in the years to come. We are determined to seek out for more and more such willing people out in the world who do not know that many more millions mouths are waiting for the blessing to transform their lives. Their smiles will transform our lives too.

A pride that humbles us, yet spirits us to reach our next target of five million.

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Discussion Room

Educating The Girls – not a piecemeal measure

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Life can be challenging when you are a girl child in India. Previously bound by social custom, girl children in India were either not provided with education at all, forced to drop out of school and help at home or married young to ease the financial burden on the family. But today that picture is slowly and undeniably changing.

By adopting the vision that ‘no child in India shall be deprived of an education because of hunger,’ The Akshaya Patra Foundation effectively found a vehicle to bring the country’s daughters under the umbrella of government education.

With the help of the state government, the foundation ensures that every day, each student shall be served a hot, nutritious and freshly cooked mid-day meal, suddenly making getting an education an exciting prospect for both parents and their children.

educating-girlsYoung Rabeena who studies in D.K.Z.P, Modern Higher Primary School, Mangalore works hard at getting her education, studying a couple of hours every day. Her mother who studied only till the fifth grade is adamant that both her children will complete their education. Rabeena’s mother says, “The best part of the mid-day meal is that the menu has a variety of dishes and every day the children get something different to eat. The food is nutritious and is provided not only to the primary classes but also to the higher grades.”

For Sarita, a student of the Government High School, Makali, Bangalore North District, these mid-day meals have changed her life. Now a grade ten student, she has been a beneficiary of the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal programme since the first grade. She expresses her pleasure over the programme saying, “I have been a beneficiary of the Akshaya Patra meal since I was a little girl and still love to eat it every day. Like many of my friends and classmates, I too depend on this meal to get through the day.”

For students like Rabeena and Sarita who have their whole lives ahead of them, The Akshaya Patra mid-day meal programme has shone a beacon of hope on their future. The 2011 census, which indicated a 2001-2011 nationwide decadal literacy growth of 9.2 per cent shows us that we are getting there. In 2011, the literacy rates of age seven and above was 82.14 per cent for men and 65.46 per cent for women.

While progress may be slow, it is still heartening to know that at the end of it all, where there is a will, there is most certainly, a way.

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