Food and Education

Food and Education

The satisfaction in feeding children


Ratna can single handedly clean the 2 tonnes of boiled rice that Akshaya Patra’s Mangalore kitchen uses everyday. That amounts to approximately 50 bags, each one containing around 50kgs of rice. It is a part of Ratna’s job to make sure that all that rice is cleaned thoroughly before cooking.

She says people always ask her why she goes to so much trouble. Her husband co-owns a boat and is a successful fisherman, so why the need to work so hard?

“I tell them,” says Ratna, “that it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to know I do this for children. My work means a lot to me. This is something that is all my own, and I love my job,” she says with a radiant smile.

Before a mechanised rice cleaner was installed, she used to clean all the rice by hand, sifting through bag after bag in preparation for the following day’s cooking. It has become much easier for her now that there is a mechanised machine, but she explains that there is still a second round of cleaning to be done. “We have to make sure there are no particles at all in the grains,” she says. “Children won’t like finding them in the food. We have to be very thorough.”

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Food and Education

‘The duty of serving children is noble’


We serve 1.3 million children everyday with freshly cooked food as a secular, non-governmental organisation (NGO) helping children. That means employing hundreds of people throughout the country and empowering scores of women. At the corner stone of this colossal effort, spearheading the Foundation on its ambitious mission to serve 5 million children by 2020, is missionary zeal. Missionaries’ unending dedication has been instrumental in transforming Akshaya Patra from a small pilot program to one of the largest non-profits in the world, implementing one of the biggest school lunch programs in history.

Nandan Acharya Dasa, who oversees day to day operations of Akshaya Patra’s Mangalore kitchen, knows well the kind of dedication and effort employees put in to serve children. Before a cold storage unit was installed in the kitchen, he says, they used to stay up into late hours of the night cutting vegetables in an effort to keep them as fresh as possible before cooking.

“Because,” he says, “Mangalore weather is very humid. They would not remain fresh for long if they were cut and left outside. Freshness of produce affects taste. We have to make sure that the food is as tasty as possible. Children will make out the difference very soon.”

On a tour of the premises, he explains, how kitchen employees used to lift heavy, fully packed steel containers of food, carrying them from the kitchen to waiting food vans before they had a conveyor belt installed in the system.

A newly acquired rice cleaning machine has helped clean rice more efficiently and faster. Through all the challenges they have faced, however, they have kept one thing in mind, says Nandan Acharya Dasa – “The duty of serving hungry children is a very noble one, that’s what we always try to remember”.

*As of April 2011

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Food and Education

Loading food for nearly 780 schools in Hubli


It would be natural to assume that after all the freshly cooked food has been packed into steel containers most of the work in the kitchen is done. But as Mallesh H.K., Loading Supervisor explains, this is not the case. Our Hubli facility has 35 food vans travelling on specific routes around the Hubli-Dharwad region, each one distributing food to an average 22 schools per route. Determining the number of containers and amount of food that each school along a route needs, is one of the challenges Mallesh must address everyday. The containers need to be packed to optimise time spent at every stop, because with so many schools to be covered, each van has little time to waste when they arrive at the schools.

Mallesh underwent one week of training which included on route travel as well as kitchen work and then worked for a year on routes before becoming a loading supervisor.

“Our route supervisors collect information from every school about how much food we should deliver for the next day, based on approximately how many children will be attending. They fill in a form which contains all the schools in the route and the projected number of containers of food each school needs. This is then consolidated into a separate sheet for all routes,” he says pointing to a sheet which contains details such as the number of schools per route, the total quantity of rice, sambar, curd or sweet that is required (depending on the menu for the day).

Written in the rows of a consolidated tracking sheet are the names of each route around the Hubli-Dharwad region. Its columns represent the quantity and type of food. “If there is 25 written in the column headed 50% under ‘Rice/Palav‘ on a row containing the name ‘Mugad’, we’ll know that for the Mugad route in the Hubli-Dharwad area, a food van must have a total of 25 steel containers packed only to 50% capacity of rice or palav,” he explains. The containers come in large, small and medium sizes, he adds and all of them will have been labeled the previous evening with a corresponding route name and required quantity.

The loading and distribution processes have been perfected over time, says Yagneswar Das, who heads the entire operations of the facility. They recently optimised the number of routes needed to cover all schools, bringing it down from 38 to 35. “We all got together and decided to make it more efficient,” he says. “The route optimisation was done by us, in-house,” he says. We use optimisation techniques not just in distribution, but also in the actual cooking processes to reduce costs. Akshaya Patra’s all India cost for one meal is just Rs. 6. Today, for every rupee donated to the Foundation, 9 paisa is spent on administrative costs.

Mallesh and his team work diligently everyday, adhering to a strict schedule to ensure food vans leave on time. When their day is over, they will have loaded a total of 5000 containers into all 35 vans.

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Food and Education

Inside the Hubli Akshaya Patra Kitchen


He heard two people speaking of Akshaya Patra at a bus stop one day, says Gopal Londe and grew curious about the Foundation. “They were talking about how there was good work here and the compensation was excellent. When I came to Hubli, I decided to find out more. I didn’t know this then, but it turned out one of my cousins was working here too. And that’s how I came to do my job,” he says. In the four years since he first started, says Gopal, he has worked on all three floors of Hubli’s massive infrastructure, often hailed as one of the largest kitchens in the world. Currently, he and his co-workers are responsible for rice cleaning on the 2nd floor.

Akshaya Patra’s third generation of kitchens, like the Hubli facility, harness the potential energy in gravity for the benefit of the cooking process in what has been termed ‘gravity flow mechanism’. Dal and rice stored in silos on the 3rd floor flows down through chutes to the 2nd floor to be cleaned before cooking. By the time their day is over, Gopal and his co-workers will have cleaned approximately 15 to 16 tonnes of rice, 3 to 3.5 tonnes of dal and 9 to 10 tonnes of vegetables. Masala preparation and vegetable cutting also takes place on this floor. From here, they must be sent to the 1st floor where the actual cooking takes place in steam heated cauldrons. Here too, the potential energy in gravity is harnessed.

When Gopal lifts a steel lid approximately 20 inches in diameter, he reveals how tonnes of rice, dal and vegetables find their way to the cauldrons below. The floor of the 2nd storey is lined with two neat rows of such lids. Each one covers a chute that leads directly to the cauldrons. One row is reserved specifically for the rice cauldrons the other set for the dal, vegetables and masala used to make sambar. An open passage connects the two floors, allowing staff to communicate and coordinate their efforts. As the cooking in each cauldron is completed, a signal from the 1st floor, given either verbally or through a walkie-talkie, alerts Gopal and his team upstairs to pour rice, dal or any other required ingredients down the chutes to corresponding cauldrons.

On the 1st floor, as each cauldron of rice has finished cooking, a team will be ready with trolleys into which the steaming rice is emptied. Then they take the rice to the large open chute that connects the 2nd floor to the ground floor. Each sambar cauldron has a connecting pipe flowing into a main duct that also leads to the ground floor.

A team of members, ready with the requirements for each school, carefully pack food into steel containers to meet the corresponding route supervisor’s request. Conveyor belts running the length of the packing area lead to the waiting food vans outside.

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Food and Education

School Inspection in Dharwad


Travelling on a bike in 380 to 400 celcius degree heat on rough, unpredictable roads to remote villages is sometimes a part of Kiran Karigoudra’s job. Working as he does inspecting schools in Dharwad city and surrounding rural areas, there is nothing he has not come across in his five years as an inspection supervisor.

“If a van is delayed due to unavoidable reasons, I have to phone up all the principals in the pending schools to let them know about the situation. Sometimes there might be trouble in a village and the van will get held up, we have to manage that situation as soon as possible,” he says. Many rural villages in the region are located in remote forest areas where the poor condition of roads poses a problem to vehicles and special care needs to be taken during rainy days. Roads will often be blocked by rock or debris, and on occasions, Kiran has to place requests with the concerned authorities for the improvement of roads.

Having grown up in Dharwad himself, Kiran knows and understands very well the area in which he works. “In this school here,” he says of a remote village ensconced in the forests that surround Dharwad near Kalkeri, “children only come to school if there is food. People do depend on Akshaya Patra. The teachers are very dedicated too. Two of them walk 7km one way just to come here and teach.” According to Kiran, at least half the children in most villages of the region attend classes because of school lunch. “A cooked meal has made so much difference for education” he says. “Earlier, when the Government used to give dry rations, children would only attend school for one or two days when they distributed rations, take the rice and dal and then leave. They wouldn’t come back until the same time next month. Nowadays they come everyday.”

When inspecting, Kiran has to make sure that food arrives at schools on time, is satisfactory to the children and is in sufficient quantities, a job which he thoroughly enjoys. “I feel a great deal of happiness working for Akshaya Patra, because my work is for children. Here, I get responsibility and I get freedom to do my work,” he says.

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Food and Education

Kitchen Activities of Bellary


“When we went to buy a vehicle to make commuting for our staff easier and the owner of the vehicle realised we were from Akshaya Patra,” says Mr. Subramanyam, “he refused to take any money from us.” Such good will and kindness, he adds, stems from the fact that we serve nearly 1.3* lakh (130,000) children in Bellary district everyday without fail. Not only that, but we have also helped provide relief for thousands of flood victims in the area.

How is the logistics of distributing and preparing exactly the right amount of food for so many children managed? Mr. Subramanyam, who handles those logistics, among many others, expands on the process:

“All of the nearly 575 schools are mapped into approximately 21 routes. Each route has a specific name and number of schools. We have one food van for each route, and the van is accompanied by a route supervisor,” he says. These route supervisors gather information on the ground from each school, including what the projected attendance rate might be for the following day. From this raw data, charts are prepared in the evening to determine the amount of food that needs to be packed into each van for the following day. The distribution supervisor then collates the data from all routes and gives the information to the head of production who will then know exactly how much food to prepare for the following day.

A meeting is held for procuring vegetables every week, says Mr. Subramanyam and fresh produce is brought in once every two days from surrounding districts such as Belgaum. “There aren’t enough vegetables in Bellary alone to meet our requirements,” adds Mr. Subramanyam. The Bellary kitchen requires around 4.5 tonnes of vegetables each day.

Mr. Subramanyam, who previously worked in the Foundation’s Hubli kitchen before coming to Bellary, has been a part of Akshaya Patra’s family for nearly four years. So thorough is he in his approach, that he has analysed everything from the trends of school attendance rates to the patterns of food consumption for each month. But he attributes the success and smooth running of the program to the people that make up Akshaya Patra.

“It all happens through good work and co-ordination of everyone involved,” he says.

*As on April 2011

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