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The Blue Bus- the carrier of happiness

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The Blue Bus …the only one of its kind vehicle with which people identifies The Akshaya Patra Foundation. The Blue bus travels to 7,110 schools and helps us reach out to 11, 98,206 children across India with the hot, nutritious and tasty food inside. It is the bus of hope for the million of hungry children who are even denied of their basic needs otherwise.

The Bus is an integral part of the success story of Akshaya Patra school meal program today. The vehicle is heat insulated to ensure that the food remains hot when it is delivered to the schools. Each vehicle can cater to about 3,000 to 5,000 children. Cooked food is packed into stainless steel containers and loaded into these custom- built vehicles, which have racks to store the containers in an orderly manner.

Using a fleet of vehicles, food is transported to the schools within a 50 km radius of the kitchen. Security personnel escort each vehicle to ensure safe delivery of meals to the schools. The vehicles drop off the meals in the schools (about 20 to 25 schools per vehicle) and on their return trip pick up empty containers. The mapping of the schools to the vehicles has also been done efficiently so that food is delivered on time, six days of the week, without fail. The Blue Bus takes equal care in serving the food as our mother does at home.

We dream of the day when this Blue Bus reaches each and every hungry child in every corner of our country.

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A Volunteer’s day with Akshaya Patra

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Letter from Bibhash Chakrabarty, a volunteer of Akshaya Patra Foundation.

Akshaya Patra- the name which always reminds me of the happy smiling faces of the little angels in school uniforms. It is a unique organization feeding more than a million children every day reaching out even the remote corners of the country.

How can we ask a child to go to the school when he cannot even afford a meal? Parents often tend to sacrifice their children’s education as they cannot afford to meet their basic requirement of food. Akshaya Patra has an extremely focused objective of bringing back children to the schools by providing them unlimited food.

I have been supporting their cause only online until 9th of April 2010 when I got the opportunity to visit a school and see by myself how they actually make this mammoth program happen in reality. I was amazed to see almost hundred per cent attendance on the last day of the school when they don’t even have any class and the annual exams are over. We reached the school at around 11 in the morning and tried to interact with them. They were all eagerly waiting for the blue bus to come with the hot tasty sambar, rice and curd. One of them said ‘we have come only for the food today’ and she added ‘I am sad that the school is going to close tomorrow. I love coming to school because on those days I don’t have to worry about the food.’

And when the ‘Blue Bus’ came – it was a real treat to the eyes. Their face lit up the moment they saw the food carrier approaching the school.

It was completely gratifying to see the children enjoying the food to the fullest.

The day made me feel proud of my decision to be a part of The Akshaya Patra Foundation. And I believe that we can all do our bit to help them in their movement towards a hunger free nation.

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Sudharshana Rao Karwal, one of India’s leading racers speaks about Akshaya Patra.

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As Akshaya Patra races ahead from zero to over 1.2 million, its noble cause is complemented by someone who is known for ‘flirting with speed’. Sudharshana Rao Karwal, one of India’s leading racers has decided to endorse the world’s largest NGO-run mid day meal programme, Akshaya Patra. The ‘need for speed’ of this 25-year-old lad from Bangalore has made him proud to be the first racer from Karnataka to win the JK Tyre national racing title. Being qualified as a trained pilot in the US, Sudharshana aspires to chase his dream down to the Formula one track.

“It gives me immense pleasure to represent a social cause like that of Akshaya Patra, which believes in the concept of unlimited food for education” he says. Sudharshana is one of the hopefuls at this season of the JK Tyre Formula Rolon, the biggest motorsport in the country, starting mid-July. He believes that his success can help the foundation reach out to the masses. “It’s good if more people know about Akshaya Patra and I hope this comes out in a big way” he adds. “A programme like this should be across all boundaries” he says talking about how hunger and poverty have become such perils on the road to development. He also believes that education is an essential ingredient to tackling the problems.

Inspired by the record-breaking multiple F1 champion Michael Schumacher, he wants to shift gears in international racing tournaments as well. “I want to go abroad and ta

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“The child that is hungry must be fed…”

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The twentieth century dawned on the eve of a World War, announcing an era of change that would forever reshape humanity and the way it defined itself. As a new political face of the world emerged, millions reeled in the aftermath of a war that closed the chapter to an enchanted 19th century and marked the beginning of the faster paced, often more gruesome 1900’s.

It was no wonder then, after the atrocities and ravages of a war, that global leaders sought for a revival of the human spirit through a special emphasis on the inalienable rights of us all as intelligent, conscientious beings. It was to this backdrop that the movement for children’s rights first began. The world sought to right its many wrongs and guide a future generation by constructing frameworks for a better tomorrow. A new International Labor Office sought to assert the rights of child workers through its 1919 Night Work of Young Persons (Industry) Convention and the Minimum Age (Agriculture) Convention of 19211.

However, it was not an organization of individuals, but rather the efforts of one lady Eglantyne Jebb (founder of the Save the Children Fund in England and the Save the Children International Union), that laid the groundwork for children’s issues and rights.

The draft of child rights stipulated by Jebb’s Save the Children International Union was later adopted by the League of Nations in the Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child on 26 September 19242. The initial 1923 document stated: “The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored. “2

Our world was finally on its way to recognizing the special needs of children as vulnerable members of society. The groundwork laid in that year was essential to addressing universal children’s issues and has been a valuable point of reference since. Nearly three decades and another World War later, in 1959, the United Nations adopted its own declaration of child rights, which owed much of its basis to Jebb’s work.

However, it was the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child that made a further, significant, contribution to the welfare of children. It built on the sound foundation laid generations before, becoming a comprehensive legal instrument by which governments might uphold the basic rights of children. By 2009, 193 countries had ratified the Convention. It was a sign that global policy makers recognized the serious plight of children across the world.

Of the four cornerstone principles that make up the Convention, Article 6 deals with perhaps the most basic: Right to life, survival and development.

So ten years into the dawn of a new millennium, where do we stand in providing the most vulnerable members of society with what has been declared as their fundamental right to life? The 20th century is often hailed as one of incredible advancement. It was a century of change that catapulted the human species into a period of great technological and scientific breakthroughs. But the question still remains as to whether we can hail ourselves as truly progressive when there are millions of children still caught in the battle for survival. More importantly, where do we, as a country, stand after more than 60 years of independence?

vrindavan_children_img2_blog India alone is home to around 40% of the world’s underweight preschool children3. Unable to receive proper nutrition and suffering from hunger in the crucial years of their development, their growth is further hampered by the compounding problems of poverty and food insecurity. In fact, globally, more than half of all child deaths are caused directly or indirectly by hunger4 and children who are poorly nourished suffer up to 160 days of illness each year5.

Not only is their right to life under threat, but also their right to development. 121 million children are out of school in the world6 and one third of those who do attend school drop out before they attain basic literacy and arithmetic skills.7Caught in a vicious cycle they struggle everyday for what is their right to a happy, healthy life.

The world has reiterated, stressed, emphasized, recognized the importance of, and resolved to do many things in the coming future, stating with great care the severity of the task at hand. There are quantifiable targets and achievable objectives and hundreds of papers written by erudite Phd holders on how it is important to ensure that a child is given basic rights, protected from exploitation, properly educated and encouraged to speak up.

But while the world managed to find an estimated $1.53 trillion dollars in 2009 to spend on its military, the United Nations has faced financial difficulties for two decades8. In fact, military spending is said to have increased during the global economic crisis.

Though there is still a tremendous need for increased efforts on the part of Governments, legislatures and societies before the state of the world’s children improves, some progress has already been made. In November of 2001, the Supreme Court of India passed an order mandating that “Cooked mid-day meal is to be provided in all the government and government-aided primary schools in all states of the country.” This gave rise to what has been termed the ‘mid-day meal scheme’.

The program, though it received nationwide implementation after the Supreme Court order, was already present in a few states of India, most notable of which is Tamil Nadu. In fact, the conceptualization of the program by K. Kamaraj, former Chief Minister of the state, is said to have been sparked by the reply of a small boy. When asked why he was herding cattle, instead of attending school, the boy replied, tongue in cheek, “If I go to school, will you give me food to eat? I can learn only if I eat.”

Today, the mid-day meal scheme in India, reaches out to an estimated 120 million children in government and government aided primary schools9 and is one of the most successful school lunch programs in the world. The success of the scheme can be attributed to public-private partnerships nurtured and developed by State Governments of the country, in which non-profit children’s organizations such as Akshaya Patra act as the implementing arm of the government. This approach has been so effective that NGOs today play a significant role in the scheme. Akshaya Patra alone reaches out to 1.2 million children across the country, an estimated 1% of the total number of nationwide beneficiaries.

Perhaps one of the most overlooked advantages of public-private partnerships is the awareness of developmental issues that they are able to raise.

Non-profits, with their network of dedicated individuals provide a more appealing human front than the Government, one in which deep rooted developmental concerns can be highlighted more easily to a country’s citizens. They bring the battle of poverty to the front door of the ordinary people, giving them with a tool to make a difference. The battle may be won, but the war has just begun. One in every three malnourished children in the world still lives in India. 10 One out of four children – roughly 146 million – in developing countries is underweight.11And of the 2.2 billion children in the world, 1 billion live in poverty. 12

Is the situation impossible to tackle? The people most qualified to answer this question are perhaps those who face the myriad complexities every day. Madhu Pandit Dasa, Chairman of Akshaya Patra is optimistic, “One thing is certain from this experience: there is boundless compassion in this world. We must involve more and more willing human hearts. It is possible, but only when we work together.”

After all, a child that is hungry must be fed…right?

1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_the_Child
2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Declaration_of_the_Rights_of_the_Child
3. Source: http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/Hunger-lowres-chapter2.pdf
4. Source: “State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2005
5. http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm
6. Source: – The State of Food Insecurity in the World, 2005
7. http://www.globalissues.org/article/75/world-military-spending#WorldMilitarySpending
8. State of the World’s Children, 2005
9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mid-day_Meal_Scheme#History
10. http://www.unicef.org/india/children_2356.htm
11. Source: The State of the World’s Children, UNICEF, 2007
12. State of the World’s Children UNICEF, 2005

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The role of NGOs

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Plush luxury juxtaposed with abject poverty, rich elegance surrounded by a need for bare human necessity.

That is contradiction of India today. Poised to become a global superpower, with a 7 % annual growth rate (one of the highest in the world), it has a rapidly expanding economy that will create a projected 200 million jobs in the next 20 yrs.

Yet the lack of basic facilities facing millions of the nation’s people can hardly be ignored. Rural India is home to some of the poorest people in the globe.

Swamped by myriad complex problems, the government has used unique strategies to find solutions. The private-public partnership (PPP) which the government encourages is one such solution.

In this partnership state governments of the country work with private, non-profit organizations such as Akshaya Patra, to implement their various schemes. For the Government this means a change in emphasis from directly delivering services to management and co-ordination, a shift that allows them to reduce their load, while at the same time ensuring that the guidelines of their schemes are met.

This shift also works in favour of the beneficiaries. A private-public partnership combines the best of both worlds in brining together the unique skills and expertise of the private sector to the advantage and larger good of the public.

One of the most successful examples of a PPP can be found in The Akshaya Patra Foundation. Akshaya Patra works in collaboration with various State Governments of India to provide nearly 1.2 million school going children across the country with freshly cooked nutritious meals.

State of the art technology combined with new and exciting innovations from the private sector have helped the Foundation achieve remarkabale results. From making 40 000 rotis an hour to cooking 6 tonnes of rice in just 30 minutes, Akshaya Patra’s centralized kitchens are so well known that they are now a case study at Harvard Business School.

All this could only have been possible with the combined efforts of society at large. The Foundation believes that change is only effective when every citizen of this country accepts their social responsibility.

In a country that is home to nearly 44% of the world’s malnourished children, the mid-day meal scheme has proved very effective in not only increasing the health of children, but also in encouraging them to return to school. It has been shown that in some places where Akshaya Patra is conducting the program, attendance and enrolment of students has increased by as much as 40%.

This private-public partnership is particularly successful because it acts as an interface between the private and public sector to bring about lasting change. In the 10 years of its existence, Akshaya Patra has managed to leverage the technology and resources of the private sector to help children in need.

The government’s strategy in encouraging these partnerships has proved very effective. Today, Cooked Mid-day Meal (CMDM) scheme is the largest of its kind in the world, with nearly 120 million children across India who benefit from the program.

In what is known as one of the greatest success stories of India, this unique strategy stands as testimony to what can be done with the collaboration of society at large.

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Akshaya Patra features in Wharton

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Akshaya Patra: Improving Education, One Meal at a Time

Published: February 25, 2010 in India Knowledge@Wharton

Each school day, more than a million children in 6,500 schools across seven Indian states eagerly await the vehicle that brings their midday meal. For many of them, the food provided by the Bangalore-based Akshaya Patra Foundation is their first, and perhaps only, meal of the day. The promise of an ample hot lunch brings them to school regularly. The foundation’s hope is that the nutrition helps them think clearly once they are there.

“Our program is not just about providing food,” says Madhu Pandit Das, chairman of the Akshaya Patra Foundation. “It is about providing opportunities for children from economically challenged backgrounds to get a good education and thereby realize their true potential.” Akshaya Patra is the world’s largest non-governmental organization (NGO) school meal program, according to the Limca Book of Records.

An estimated 45 million children do not attend school in India because they have to fend for themselves and their families. They typically end up with menial jobs. Without education, they remain in poverty. Many underprivileged children who do attend school remain impoverished because hunger and malnutrition prevent them from learning well. “We want to break this vicious cycle,” says the foundation’s vice chairman, Chanchalapati Das. “Our vision is that no child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger.”

Having crossed the one million milestone last year, Akshaya Patra is working toward its next goal: to reach five million underprivileged children by 2020. But Madhu Pandit also envisions a larger social role. “We want to develop Akshaya Patra as a platform that other NGOs and social entrepreneurs can adopt and replicate.” He and Chanchalapati, engineers by education, are also full-time missionaries at the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a Krishna temple in Bangalore.
In a congratulatory letter in November 2008, U.S. President Barack Obama noted that in just a few years, Akshaya Patra had become the single largest feeding program in the world. “Your example of using advanced technologies in central kitchens … is an imaginative approach that has the potential to serve as a model for other countries,” he wrote.

Compared with other NGOs that struggle to survive, how has Akshaya Patra managed to reach so many? According to S. Nayana Tara, professor of public systems at the Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, the foundation’s “management and operating model, the quality and delivery of services, and the commitment of the team are all key differentiators.” To reach its next goal of reaching five million children “and to become a role model, it needs to continue to build on all these fronts. It has to be a very well-orchestrated program.” Nayana Tara, who has conducted impact studies on the program, adds that in moving ahead, Akshaya Patra needs to pay special attention to capacity-building at all levels by bringing in professionals with different strengths. And it needs to put robust measures of service quality in place.

Says Devi Shetty, a cardiac surgeon who is founder of the Bangalore-based heart hospital Narayana Hrudayalaya: “[Akshaya Patra’s] biggest strength is that they are very conscious of every penny that is spent and they spend it extremely judiciously. They are fulfilling a great social need.” Shetty, whose hospital has made quality cardiac care widely affordable, points out that Akshaya Patra is run like a business, even though there is no profit motive. Shetty is a member of Akshaya Patra’s board of advisers.

Akshaya Patra — which in Sanskrit means the “inexhaustible vessel” — began in 2000 as a small initiative of ISKCON-Bangalore. The temple cooks meals — called prasadam — for thousands of devotees on a daily basis. Mohandas Pai, director at software giant Infosys Technologies, suggested to Madhu Pandit, chairman of ISKCON, that the temple take on the responsibility of feeding underprivileged children in nearby schools. Pai, who later became a program trustee, offered to bear part of the cost personally. Madhu Pandit agreed and the temple started cooking and distributing food to 1,500 students across five schools in the city. Word of mouth soon led to requests pouring in from other schools.

A year later, to avoid religious overtones, Akshaya Patra registered as an independent and secular charitable trust. In 2003, the government of Karnataka started its own midday meal in line with a Supreme Court decree that such programs be implemented by all state governments. The Karnataka government invited NGOs to become implementing partners and Akshaya Patra responded. It now partners with seven state governments.

Funding Requirements

While most other NGOs fit their infrastructure and meal costs within the state government funding, Akshaya Patra’s state government funding accounts for about half of meal costs. Akshaya Patra raises the rest from institutions such as ISKCON, its trustees, corporations and individual donors.

The cost difference, Madhu Pandit says, is because of the superior quality and unlimited quantity of the Akshaya Patra meal. The meal typically includes rice or chapattis (wheat pancakes), sambar (a vegetable- and lentil-based gravy dish) or dal (a lentil-based dish) and curd, and contains 550 calories. Nayana Tara says that “what the government provides by way of a midday meal is at best a snack of sorts. Akshaya Patra, on the other hand, gives a complete, wholesome and unlimited meal.” Third-party studies have documented the positive impact of Akshaya Patra meals by way of increased enrollment, better student health and improved academic performance.

“In the last financial year [2008-2009], the average cost of an Akshaya Patra meal was Rs. 4.68 (US$0.10), of which the government funded around Rs. 2.64. This means that to feed one million children, we needed donations of around Rs 20 lakh (US$43,000) per school day. Since then, the costs have gone up further,” Chanchalapati says. Akshaya Patra has also spent more than Rs. 60 crore (US$12.9 million) in setting up its kitchens. The kitchens are core to the program’s operations, and to its success. Unlike in most other midday meal programs, where the cooking takes place at the school or in small set-ups, Akshaya Patra’s kitchens are highly automated and centralized to allow for scale. This minimizes manual handling and ensures high standards of hygiene.

Akshaya Patra has 14 such kitchens, most of which are designed to prepare 50,000 or 100,000 meals per day. Two of its biggest — in Hubli and Bellary (both in Karnataka) — can cook 250,000 meals per day. Each Akshaya Patra kitchen is headed by two full-time ISKCON missionaries and typically has 150 to 300 employees. The kitchens open at 2:30 a.m. and cooking starts at 3:00 a.m. The first vehicle carrying food rolls out at 5:30 a.m. It typically takes about five hours to cook 100,000 Akshaya Patra meals. “Our centralized kitchen model leverages technology and innovations to maximize operational and cost efficiencies,” says program director Chitranga Chaitanya Das, who is also a full-time missionary at ISKCON and an engineer.

For instance, Akshaya Patra uses customized industrial steam generators and specifically designed vegetable cutting machines that can process hundreds of kilograms of vegetables per hour. It has imported a Blagdon Pump (typically used in chocolate processing for pumping liquid chocolate) from the United Kingdom and is using it to pump out excess water while cooking rice. In locations where, in keeping with local preferences, the meals include chapattis, Akshaya Patra uses customized machines that can prepare up to 40,000 per hour.

One of Akshaya Patra’s most striking innovations is its three-tier kitchens based on gravity flow. In these kitchens, the cleaned rice, which is kept in a silo on the ground floor, is first lifted into a smaller silo on the third floor via bucket elevators. The rice is then dropped to the second floor through a computer-controlled flow valve. The washing of the rice and lentils and the cutting of vegetables is done on the second floor. These are then dropped through a number of stainless steel chutes to vessels on the first floor where the cooking is done. The cooked food is similarly dropped to the ground floor, where it is packed into airtight stainless steel containers and loaded into custom-designed grid vehicles. At present, Akshaya Patra has three such gravity kitchens — one each in Bangalore, Hubli and Bellary. For its innovative use of technology to benefit humanity, it won the Tech Award Laureate 2009 from the San Jose, California-based Tech Museum.

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Aruna Chetana

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He gripped the spoon tightly, shying away and looking through the corner of his eyes. In just an audible whisper, he said that his favorite meal was rice and sambhar, that he also liked sweet. He put another spoonful of rice into his mouth with a happy smile.

13 year old Prateek is a special child suffering from cerebral palsy. Born in a middle class family, Prateek goes to the Aruna Chetana, a school for children with special needs where Akshaya Patra also serves the mid-day meals. Almost all the children eat Akshaya Patra’s freshly cooked food everyday at lunch.

Gayathri, the Vice President of Aruna Chetana, expresses enthusiasm at the Akshaya Patra programme implemented in the school:
“Children enjoy their meal especially when items like Bisi Belebath, sweet pongal and vegetable pulav are a part of the menu.”

Parents usually visit the school to keep a check on their children and are very happy over the lunch being served. Some of the staff of this 22 year old initiative also feed children who need assistance. And for about 60 young toddlers who are a part of the nursery, the rice is smashed to make it easier for little ones to swallow.

The other staff, along with Gayathri feel that the Akshaya Patra meal, definitely, is serving as a catalyst to make these little ones get the nutrition they need.

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I am going to support them all my life…

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“I have been supporting the cause of The Akshaya Patra Foundation since last one year. I got to know about the Foundation from one of my close friend who is based in US.I was little apprehensive in the beginning. What was bothering me was – Is it one of the thousand NGOs which crop up everyday? I went through their website, found out the contact details, called them up and decided to visit their kitchen. I was spellbound to see the huge operation running in their ISO certified kitchen where they cooked for 1.5 lakh children in front of my own eyes. The moment I came out of the kitchen I told myself that I am going to support them all my life in whatever small ways I can.

I believe that the foundation is one of its kinds, do a marvelous work to eliminate hunger and poverty. And I request people to join their movement and be a change themselves. “

Mr. Arun.C, a supporter of Akshaya Patra Foundation.

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Run for fun… and a cause!

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On 31st May 2009, the small team of 35 people from Akshaya Patra, was charged with excitement. We were geared for the Majja Run at the Sunfeast World 10K Marathon, being held in Bangalore. Having collected at the Kanteerva Stadium, we were all set for the 5.6 Km run (or brisk walk!) that we were doing to garner support for our cause – unlimited food for education!

With the firing of the gun, our team started running, banner in hand and a smile on our faces. The thrill of running to create awareness for Akshaya Patra was tremendous and we were happy to be speaking about our work and program, to the media and interested individuals. Just like us, various charities had turned up to do their bit and people from all walks of life were running in the spirit of participation.

From the group of 35, 32 of us kept up to our promise to our donors – of running the entire 5.6 Km of the Majja Run; the remaining 3 – Ramaswamy, Williams, and Ravi, did even better – they ran the full 10 Km distance! A big ‘thank you’ to all the people who helped us generate funds from this initiative.

Since the past few years marathons have become a regular activity across the metros in India and each city hosts 2-3 marathons, half-marathons or night-marathons in a year. This is a wonderful opportunity for NGOs like us to tell the people about the work we do and inspire people to come forward to make a collective difference to society. While this time round, we put up a small effort, we would like to magnify this in the forthcoming marathons. We request those of you who would like to run the marathon in your city for Akshaya Patra, to mail us today! Our team of fundraisers will work closely with you to ensure that you are able to make your run more meaningful by asking people to pledge their support for your run. As you run for fun, make it an event to remember – not just for yourself, but for the 1 million children who benefit from your run, when you support for Akshaya Patra!

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My unique experience: Dr. Jaswant S. Sachdev

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Finally with the grace of God, I did make it back home yesterday. While this was one of my over scores of previous visit back home over a span of forty years, I don’t hesitate or mince words in saying it openly and clearly that this visit turned out to be one of the best and fruitful for me than any before. Our visit to the kitchen at Bangalore on March 5th a success and unique experience.

This visit indeed changed mine as well as that of my wife’s perspective towards life. The selfless service being performed in a best possible way under the circumstances deserves all the credit in the world. It made me feel that there indeed is “Hope” that children of India will one day once again shine and shine with great splendor so long as people and volunteers are there.

I am planning to write in detail about visit for our local ethnic weekly, but in the meanwhile please accept my congratulations and my personal thanks from the bottom of my heart for all what was done for me to make my visit a fruitful one with first hand on site experience with what goes on with such a great facility. It indeed was a combination of true ingenuity, sense of purpose, desire to serve and efforts to raise funds as well as love for country we call mother India.

Dr. Jaswant S. Sachdev, MD

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