Experience during the time of disaster

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Around the beginning of October 2009, when all schools had closed for Dasara holidays and people across India were celebrating the festive season, Karnataka experienced one of its greatest tragedies. Retreating South-West monsoons brought heavy rain, resulting in the worst floods in over a 100 years [1]. More than half a million people were displaced, and scores lost their lives in the ensuing tragedy [2].

As authorities fought to control the situation, a request for assistance was made to Akshaya Patra by the District Zilla Panchayat of the region. We were asked to help in any way we could and provide relief for the thousands whose homes had been destroyed overnight.

“We immediately responded the best way we knew how: by preparing fulfilling, healthy food for people in need. The Bellary kitchen ran for 24 hours during the most crucial period, with kitchen staff doing double and triple shifts. Some of the employees, who had gone home for the holidays, came back to help. The Zilla Panchayat sent their own staff to assist in the packing of food. Buses full of food were taken everyday to the Jindal Aerodrome, packed into helicopters and dropped into the affected areas “,said Yudhishtira Dasa, the kitchen head of Bellary.

“We were able to meet the demand immediately. Our kitchen is ready to cater to any situation,” added Yudhishtira Dasa.

For nearly four days we worked to provide relief for thousands of flood victims. In some places such as Siriguppa, we supplied food for 15 days. By the end of that period, the Bellary kitchen, with its maximum capacity to serve 50 000, had prepared hundreds of thousands of meals.

When disaster struck and help was needed, the people of India, its Government and The Akshaya Patra Foundation, worked hand in hand on a massive scale effort to provide relief for those in need.


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Volunteers from ANZ made their day special

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‘Cchhiva prachaad’, he said when asked what his name was. The young 5-year-old, who almost crept out of being a toddler, rushed towards his head-mistress who was distributing prizes to winners of the drawing competition. It was more than amusement for these kids in the Bhovipalya Government Primary school. A group of enthusiasts from ANZ operations and technologies Pvt Ltd, eager to contribute their bit towards a social cause, had decided to visit the Akshaya Patra family.

Amazed by the technology and operational efficiency practiced in the HK hill kitchen, they planned to extend their exercise by visiting a school. The little ones had a smile which couldn’t get wider. They played, they painted while some did the song and dance act. About 80 primary school children, most of them who come from a neighboring slum, had not even dreamt about their day turning out to be fun-filled, when they left for school in the morning. ANZ is one among several other corporate who have been associated and supported Akshaya Patra… The volunteers of ANZ had come up with the idea of arranging a drawing competition. The kids drew brown mountains and blue skies where most of their dreams reach to. Some drew the tri-color marking their respect to our wonderful nation. Some drew a happy family which most belong to. Shiva Prasad was one of the winners. So was Mahesh who was applauded like a hero when he went to receive his price. Several others also had their luck that day.

As the price distribution came to an end we suddenly realized it was time for lunch. What more can the kids ask for- An eventful day and Akshaya Patra meals to top it all. Many were almost put under (mesmerized) by the aroma of hot piping sambhar. The hungry children grabbed their plates and waited in a queue to be served by their corporate volunteers.

They munched on while it brought a smile on Anil’s face. Anil who works in the Financial operations of ANZ had his personal bliss as he mingled with the kids. He had always heard about Akshaya Patra Foundation as the world’s largest NGO run school mid-day-meal programme. It was an out-of the-world experience for him to know more about how the foundation is so efficient and organized to feed about 1.2 million children everyday.

Anil’s friend Pramod even shared some lunch with one of the kids. For a couple of them, who spend most of their time in front of a computer or on the phone, it was an amazing experience to witness children eat a wholesome meal. A few others from ANZ were stunned by the capacity and efficiency of our kitchen. “It was amazing to see rice and sambhar being prepared in such huge cauldrons” said Tilak. Swarah who was awestruck with Akshaya Patra’s reach said “Akshaya Patra has been carrying on with this noble cause for about a decade now and it is nice to know that such organizations are contributing in a considerable way to help children get education”. Before they bid adieu, the team from ANZ promised to come back again with a bigger plan.

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CISCO Employees Visit Akshaya Patra Kitchen

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Vasanthapura_img1A simple building on a small hillock at Vasanthapura belies ten years of working towards a better India. The drive up the hill, paved with stones that make for a rough road, ends at a nondescript glass door. In the backdrop stands a formidable 270 ton silo, a silent testament to the work at hand, a clue to what lies inside the structure. On the 2nd floor of this building, a group of around 30 sit with concentrated focus to be a part of a project that has been a decade in the making.

It was at Akshaya Patra’s Vasanthpura kitchen, on December 8th, that a group of CISCO employees volunteered to take part in the mid-day meal program, one of the biggest developmental success stories of India. To go behind the curtains of that story, is to reveal a tale of 121 million smiles.

The mid-day meal program provides lunch to underprivileged children in Government and Government aided schools across the country. Of the 121 million children that currently benefit from the scheme, Akshaya Patra directly impacts 1.2 million, nearly 1% of the total number of beneficiaries. And it all begins everyday in the Foundation’s 19 kitchens across the country. As the group of 30 assembled found out, it is no easy task. The mere logistics of serving the 100,000 children that the Vasanthapura kitchen reaches out to has taken years to perfect. For more than 5 hours on a cool Wednesday, the CISCO employees took part in a few of the preparations that go into making those meals. On a daily basis, that includes everything from cutting between 5-6 tons of vegetables and cooking tons of rice and dal to grating nearly 2000 fresh coconuts.

Vasanthapura_img2Closely observing the activities taking place, stands Chandrakanth Bhandarkar, in charge of hygiene on the floor. He explains how all vegetables are washed in 50 parts per million chlorine water and then thoroughly rinsed in plain water. Sectioning those vegetables into smaller pieces and chopping them in vegetable cutters are the volunteers from CISCO.

“It’s good to see that at least someone out there is doing something for children in the country,” says Karthik S.G.. He operates the vegetable cutting machine, surrounded by towering cartons full of freshly chopped produce. On the same 2nd floor, his colleagues help prepare the vegetables and rice that will become a part of the following day’s menu.

In two neat rows behind the busily working team, on the floor of the kitchen, lie glistening cylindrical lids, almost unnoticed in the flurry of activity. When Arun Kumar V., Assistant Manager of Operations lifts one lid, he reveals chutes travelling down to the 1st floor, each one corresponding to the cauldrons below where the actual cooking takes place.

Vasanthapura_img3“We use walkie talkies to co-ordinate between floors so that exactly the right amount of ingredients goes into each cauldron,” he explains. And what exactly is the right amount? Each rice cauldron cooks close to 100 kgs of rice in 15 minutes. Each sambar cauldron is used to prepare 1200 liters of sambar using between 15 to 16 kilograms of masala. Such large quantities of rice and dal are stored on the 3rd floor of the facility, in what are known as day silos, which have a capacity of around 7 to 10 tons. These silos are refilled each day with rice from the monthly 270 ton silo outside the facility.

“Bucket elevators are used to take rice up into the silos. In cooking, we use single jacket steam heated cauldrons. We used to use double jackets but it took a lot of time to cook rice in those, so we changed to a single jacket. The steam is generated in boilers. Earlier diesel was the source of fuel, but now we’ve replaced that with briquettes. They’re economic, and more than that, they’re eco-friendly.” From the cauldrons on the 1st floor, the freshly cooked food travels via chutes to the ground floor where it is packed and loaded into waiting, specially designed food vans.

Vasanthapura_img4The complexities of the entire operations are divided into various departments, each one working in synchrony with the other to prepare meals on time: maintenance, quality, distribution, purchase, housekeeping, accounts and others. This harmony of activity is precisely what impressed the CISCO employees most.

“It was a wonderful experience,” said Deepa as their volunteering came to an end.

The mid-day meal program, though a simple concept in itself, has brought about great change in India. It has been able to address many of the immediate and long term challenges faced by the nation. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization, “The impact on governance and food security can be seen in several countries that have already recognized a “justiciable” right to food. In India, for example, the Supreme Court mandated cooked lunches in all of the country’s schools. Both nutrition and school attendance have improved dramatically where the programme has been implemented, particularly among girls. Given the critical role of maternal nutrition and education in breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty, the benefits will be felt for generations to come…”

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A Teacher speaks about Akshaya Patra

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“Akshaya Patra has indeed helped us,” says Vasantha Kumari. According to this Head Mistress of Maharani Girls’ High School, things have changed drastically for most of the teachers and children that she works with. Before Akshaya Patra, it was the teachers of the school, including Vasantha Kumari, who were given the onus of ensuring lunch was provided on time. “We could not concentrate on teaching as much as we would have liked,” she says. However the timely arrival of Akshaya Patra’s meals has helped greatly; the teachers now have more time to focus on their work.

The children at her school have benefitted even more. As the headmistress indicates, hyper-acidity was commonplace among her students earlier. According to her, the supply of food from Akshaya Patra has greatly reduced the number of children suffering from hyper-acidity. The primary reason for this, she believes, is that the food always arrives on time, in a systematic manner which ensures regularity in the meal time of the children. Even the attendance levels have been on the rise. “The quality of food is also excellent and the food is tasty. Children eat well and don’t hesitate to eat more,” she says.

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Shining through

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The Akshaya Patra Foundation made waves at the recently held PAN IIT conference in Chicago. Amongst the 2000 delegates attending the conference, were Sri Desh Deshpande, an IIT alumni and an accomplished IT professional, and his wife, Jaishree.

Sri Deshpande is also the Chairman of TAPF in America.

Although disappointed, Sri Deshpande was looking forward to hearing President Bill Clinton’s address as a keynote speaker. “President Clinton had everyone spell bound for 60 minutes!” he tell us. During the talk, President Clinton mentioned Akshaya Patra four times and had the audience abuzz with excitement. Sri Deshpande had mentioned our work to President Clinton in an earlier instance when he had the opportunity to travel with the President and Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to Haiti, in AirForce ONE, to see their Mid Day meal program. “They serve 100 children a day, which looked impressive. But when they learnt about Akshaya Patra serving a million meals a day they were stunned!” It makes us very happy that our work is being recognized at the global level.

We’d like to specially thank Sri Deshpande, Nishith, Madhu, and Ravindra for their many efforts to drill the Akshaya Patra message and position it as the largest mid-day meal program in the world at the Clinton Global Initiative.

You can help us stand for children everywhere too! Support us today!

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Global giving made easy!

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Ever heard about a world-changing idea that you wanted to support, but didn’t know how to? Thanks to websites such as GlobalGiving, it is easier than ever now!

An open, transparent marketplace, GlobalGiving is a platform that connects ideas and solutions that change the world with people who want to support such initiatives. Offering donors a simple, efficient, and accountable way to give, GlobalGiving helps projects across the world.

Recently we at Akshaya Patra, registered ourselves on this platform. It gives us the opportunity to introduce our cause to a global audience and thus enables people from across the globe to support us. However, adhering to all the mandatory requirements wasn’t enough. To be considered as an eligible charity on this site, we need to raise $4000 from 50 donors, in a month’s time. Difficult it was, with the support of friends like you, we have crossed the amount but you can keep supporting us to win a bonus from global giving.

Therefore, we sincerely request to all friends of Askhaya Patra to help us by spreading the good word and supporting our cause. Please visit our page and donate at:…

Your contribution will play a significant role is assuring us registration and visibility on this site, which in turn will help us feed more children across India.

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Cisco’s association with Akshaypatra.

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Excerpts from an interview with Mr. V. Gopalratnam, VP IT and CIO Cisco India regarding Cisco’s association with Akshaypatra.

Mr. V. Gopalratnam heads the Civic Council at Cisco India and it is under his leadership that the Cisco India community is working on social initiatives focused on strengthening communities and having a positive impact on them.

Q) How has CISCO involved/associated with Akshayapatra?
A) Cisco partners with Akshaypatra for the Global Hunger Relief campaign. The Global Hunger Relief campaign was launched in 2001 by Cisco globally. Every year since then, Cisco has united to provide donations to the world’s best hunger relief organisations. In India, our exclusive partner is Akshaypatra. Our focus is on the Feed a Child program for government school children – run by Akshaypatra. We raise funds for them so they can continue their Mid Day Meals feeding program in government schools across Karnataka.

In this way, Cisco is indirectly having a positive impact on children’s education – as this program acts as a great incentive for under-privileged kids to attend school.

In Cisco, the Global Hunger relief campaign runs every year in months of November and December – globally, where employees and teams are encouraged to contribute toward charity. Each employee contribution is matched by Cisco Foundation as well as the John Morgridge Foundation (John Morgridge is Cisco’s Chairman of the Board Emeritus) – affectively tripling the amount of money that is contributed to the chosen charities.

Q) How long has been the association?

A) Cisco’s association with Akshaypatra has been consistent for 3 yrs, since 2007.

In the first year, Cisco employees contributed enough funds to feed 10,000 children in government schools for an entire year, in the second year we contributed toward feeding 20,000 school children and for the current year we are being able to feed 30,000 school children through Akshaypatra’s Mid Day Meals program.

Q) What kind of funding has been provided by CISCO to the organisation? As in, has CISCO helped with providing transportation/ machinery etc to the institution?

A) In 2007/08, Cisco employees contributed enough funds to feed 10,000 children in government schools for an entire year, in 2008/09 we contributed toward feeding 20,000 school children and for the current year we are being able to feed 30,000 school children through Akshaypatra’s Mid Day Meals program. Cisco’s efforts with Akshaypatra is focused on sponsoring the Feed a Child program also known as the Mid Day Meals program in government schools. In some cases, the government schools that we want to sponsor are actually identified by Cisco, but the bulk of the schools are Akshaypatra associated.

Q) What kind of programmes has CISCO and Akshayapatra jointly executed for the children?

A) Our focus is on the Feed a Child program for government school children – run by Akshaypatra, also known as the Mid Day Meals Program.

We also involve Akshaypatra in our own efforts – led by Cisco volunteers. Last year our volunteers identified 6 schools around the Cisco campus area, here in Bangalore. We conducted summer camps in these government schools, teaching basic hygiene and health related subjects. We provided mid day meals during the summer vacations when the schools were not in session – and this was done in association with Akshaypatra.

This year we will also feed school kids in government schools based in Raichur district, which is the area affected by devastating floods – in association with Akshaypatra. At this point, this project – called Project Samudaya- is a work in progress with the organization.

Q) Has CISCO helped with provide educational support to the children who come to the NGO?

A) Cisco volunteers work in the health and education areas for the underprivileged where we conducted summer camps in these government schools, teaching basic hygiene and health related subjects. We also involve Akshaypatra in these efforts – led by Cisco volunteers. Last year our volunteers identified 6 schools around the Cisco campus area, here in Bangalore. We provided mid day meals during the summer vacations when the schools were not in session – and this was done in association with Akshaypatra.

This year we will also feed school kids in government schools based in Raichur district, which is the area affected by devastating floods – in association with Akshaypatra. At this point, this project is a work in progress with the organization.

Q) What are the future plans with Akshayapatra?

A) With Akshaypatra, we hope to have a long term association. We will continue to support them as a part of Cisco’s Global Hunger Relief Program.

We are now working with Akshaypatra on a Cisco project, called Project Samudaya. These philanthropic efforts are aimed toward the flood affected areas of Northern Karnataka – specifically Raichur district. Cisco has committed $10 million toward rehabilitating 4 villages in that area. We are working with Akshaypatra to feed school kids in government schools based in Raichur district.

Q) Has CISCO collaborated with the NGO outside Karnataka?

A) Cisco has made many efforts in collaborating – through technology, and otherwise – for philanthropic reasons with NGOs and educational institutions across India.

Firstly – as an initiative of the India Civic Council, Cisco has a technology oriented program with educational institutions – the Cisco Networking Academy program – created for deserving and under privileged students. The whole technology setup has been donated by Cisco to the education institutions. The basic curriculum of this program is free of cost. It is currently being offered in 24 states and 107 tier 3 cities across India.

Next – Cisco has an MoU with the Government of Rajasthan for the Cisco Networking Academy initiative for marginalized students below the poverty line.

Next – Cisco has a technology initiative with a global NGO – One World, with presence in New Delhi. Cisco has donated a solution based on Cisco Unified Communications technology for rural areas. The service provides information to local farmers and population regarding agriculture and life-stock queries. The local population can come to the UC equipment powered centers to seek answers from subject matter experts across the country. This service is provided by One World Inc. in local languages and is currently available across 4 states in India.

Next – Cisco is actively involved with NGOs by providing technology solutions in Andhra Pradesh to the Dr. Reddy Foundation for education of marginalized children and also in Calcutta with Unnatti, an NGO involved in teaching deaf children.

Finally, our employees are associated at the local level with charities in different parts of the country- with Make a Wish Foundation for terminally ill children, New Delhi based Arya orphanage, and other local charities.

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Dialing to create a SMILE

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It was a day of rejoice, a moment when their efforts were ready to be imprinted on their morale. The team of 7 from Kankei Services, an active part of Akshaya Patra’s telemarketing function, was prepared to celebrate the success of Dominic, Nirmala and Hifzaa. As a token of appreciation, the trio was being awarded for their outstanding performance. Sridhar Venkat, Executive Director Marketing, Akshaya Patra Foundation, patted on their back and handed over the certificates to the winners. He pointed at a dangler hanging on the roof which read ‘Smile and Dial’ and said “I would like to add another line to it. DIAL and SMILE, because the work you do results in a smile on a child’s face”.

The team at Kankei services has been associated with the foundation for about a year now. With a postcard from Akshaya Patra on their desk, the passion with which they establish a phone call is convincing enough for most donors who have believed in contributing to the cause. It is quite usual for anyone, considering the busy urban schedule, to be rude to telecallers who either are selling insurance or credit cards. But on witnessing the effort and enthusiasm of this team, some of our staff members decided that they will never be rude to any telecalling agent again.

“It feels great to be associated with Akshaya Patra and it’s a pleasure to talk about their service to people” says 22-year-old Dominic who was awarded as the best performer. “I am never disappointed when the person I call denies donating” he says. “I believe in building a relationship with a prospective donor. The same person might donate a large sum one day” he adds. Most of young Dominic’s colleagues believe the same. Sandesh has been following up with a prospect for the past 8 months. “We have a healthy chat every time I call him. This month when I spoke to him, he agreed to donate a considerable amount at end of this month” says Sandesh with contentment. Many donors also call the telecallers back on their personal phones when they are ready to donate. A motivator to achieve more, and a reason for a smile to spring on another child’s face.

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PPP model best suited for implementing Mid day meals

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According to minister of State for Human Resources Development, Govt. of India D Purandeswari, over 13 crore children across the country are receiving benefits from the mid-day meal scheme. But the concern is how well this scheme is working? The planning commission of India, which evaluated the scheme at the ground level found several shortcomings in the implementation of the scheme. As recommendation, the plan panel has suggested that public private partnership will ensure better delivery of services and therefore a better performance of the scheme.

Launched in 2005, the school meal programme is one of the most successful programme of govt. of India. It aims to protect children from classroom hunger, increase school enrollment and attendance, check malnutrition and empower underprivileged section of society.

The study of the planning commission focused on to assess the extent to which CMDM (cooked mid-day meal), availability of infrastructure for implementation of CMDM, improvement in attendance, retention and nutritional status of children and to assess to the extent to which CMDM has succeeded in achieving the objectives. The study also tried to find out the impact of CMDM on teaching and learning activities in schools. The survey covered 17 states, 48 districts, 480 schools and 4,800 beneficiary students for a period of six years.

Some of the findings in the report are:

Teachers were found to be actively engaged in implementation of the scheme, which was adversely affecting the teaching process.

Pupils spend an average of 9.83 hours a week in washing dishes and utensils in Rajasthan schools.

About 75% schools running mid-day meal scheme have no access to drinking water in states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Jharkand, Maharashtra,Meghalaya and West Bengal.

Students too spend considerable time in washing utensils that was adversely affecting the learning process.

Average time spent by students in washing utensils was 15 minutes (Jammu & Kashmir) to 9.83 hrs (Rajasthan) in a week in the sample selected states.

Rajasthan was at the forefront with nearly 50% found involved in washing utensils, closely followed by West Bengal (45.1%) and Arunachal Pradesh (38.14%).

According to the study, the scheme has not even been able to dispense the “economic reason” which prevents children from coming to school, which was its main objective.

As per the data collected, only 23% from SC and 13% from ST category have been benefiting from the scheme. About one fifth of the beneficiaries in Bihar, Rajasthan and West Bengal reported that they do not get adequate meals at school.

While, a large number of students expressed satisfaction about quality of meal in Rajasthan (80%) but other states like Bihar about 72% of the beneficiaries have responded that the quality of food is poor and 77% say that they are not satisfied.

Experts too support the planning commission’s recommendation on PPP mode as one of the best model for better service and performance of the scheme. According to D. Jagannatha Rao, former bureaucrat and renowned educationalist who authored a book on Elementary Education in India: Status, Issues and Concerns argues that the Akshaya Patra Program bears an eloquent testimony to the efficacy of successful collaborative efforts between governments and the foundation. The inherent strength that Akshaya Patra stresses is that willingness to work in remote areas, ability to set in motion a participatory process in identification of the needs, the design and implementation of programmes, the readiness to mobilize and use local resources, effective service delivery and freedom to innovate.

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You don’t need to be a superman to bring about change.

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You don’t need to be a superman to bring about change. All it requires is the will and the courage to take a small step towards the change.

Vaibhav and Rashmi have set such an example. They got married on 13th December 2009. Both of them wanted to contribute towards a social cause while they tie the knot. They chose a few NGOs working for different causes and tried to help them through their wedding function. They bought the gifts for their guest from a special school for the mentally and physically challenged.

With the help of their like minded friends they got it packed and attached a letter along with it which contained a brief about The Akshaya Patra Foundation and a request for support along with the organization’s contact details.

Apart from this they have also put up a stall in the Marriage Hall along with the food counters where they displayed some banners and posters speaking about the Akshaya Patra Foundation. One of his friend who is in to media got it covered in one of the national newspaper.

This was indeed a commendable job done by Vaibhav and Rashmi whom we have never even known. We got to know about this only a few days back through his blog and was really moved my their humble gesture.

Volunteers often asks us – ‘what can we do?’ So dear friends it’s all within us. We just need to have that spirit to take that single step.

To know more about Vaibhav and Rashmi

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