The Power of one Meal

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Imagine a new-born child, the latest addition to a family of 5, fresh with the hope of a new beginning. She announces her arrival into the world with her first breath, fiercely staking her claim to life, much to the joy of her parents. Her very birth is a miracle.

Being born in a marginalized section of society, chances are high that before she has even begun on this journey of life, she will have to overcome many challenges.  Of every thousand live births in India, she may be one of the 69 children who will not grow to see their 5th birthday. In fact, being born in a marginalized section of society, she is probably one of the 43% of under 5 children in the country who are either moderately or severely underweight[1]. Her mother herself is weak from the efforts of childbirth.

Her parents take her home to their small shack, shining with happiness, like all new parents. As her father leaves for his job at a nearby construction site, her mother settles in for a typical day. She cleans and cooks for her 3 other children and sends them to school. Now the rest of her day really begins. She must start her work making cotton wicks for oil lamps. Like the rest of the 42% of India’s population, she and her family must survive on less than $1.25 (approx. Rs. 57) a day[2]. The addition of a new member means there is an added strain on their meager resources.  As she works through the hours, she must also take care of their baby girl.

The day wears on as she juggles motherhood with her job, growing more and more hungry as the time goes by. But there is not enough food for two proper meals in a day, much less three, and she must carry on until the evening. She thinks of the future of her children, dreams of what they could become in the future.

The dipping sun heralds the end of the day and she is surprised to see her husband return early from work. It is only 7:30 in the evening and he is already back. There is a reason for this. A reason that has nothing to do with them; it has gushed down from the wealthiest countries in the world, gathering momentum in its wake, wreaking the greatest havoc to the most vulnerable. The global economic crisis has reached their front step. And her husband has lost his job.

What will the family do now? Like 34% of the country’s over-15 population, both husband and wife can neither read nor write[3]. With less than 4 years of schooling, the new father’s chances of finding another job are slim in such bleak economic conditions. How will he keep his children in school now? More importantly, how will he even provide food for them? What will be the fate of their new born baby girl?

This may be an imaginary situation, but to thousands of fathers and mothers across the country, it is a reality. The fate of this baby girl is the fate of many. There is one way out of this grip of poverty: education, but how can they afford to even think of education when there is not enough for food? Every basic amenity is a luxury to the hungry, because hunger has a way of occupying the mind unlike anything else.
A person might ask: how can we help the family? If we posed that question to the mother or father, they might answer simply, “Help my child, and you will have helped me.”

To those of us who have the benefit of Fate’s kindness, one full meal a day may seem like nothing. But to others, especially children, to whom Fortune has not been so kind, it is the difference between poverty and prosperity. It means a full stomach and an invigorated mind that can concentrate on learning and growing, rather than trying to find the next meal. It means there is a chance at an education and a future.

Akshaya Patra provides that meal to over 1.2 million underprivileged children every school day. It may seem like nothing, but to thousands of parents across India, it means that the joy of their lives, their children, get to eat well and grow healthy. And dare to dream of a brighter tomorrow.


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Food insecurity and ‘Twin track strateg

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A household is said to be food insecure when the people in it live in fear of hunger and starvation. Food insecurity affects millions around the world and children, the most vulnerable members of society, are the greatest affected it. Caught in the clutches of poverty and living a hand to mouth existence, many survive on less than one meal a day. While education may be the surest ticket out of the many dehumanizing and abject conditions faced by these children, improving their health and physical well being is the first, most important step to securing their future. Children deprived of the necessary nutrients due to food insecurity fall prey to malnutrition, stunted physical growth and reduced cognitive abilities, all of which eventually hamper their education.
The problem of malnutrition faced by the world’s children is very severe. One out of four – roughly 146 million – in developing countries is underweight and although India is growing economically, this has not been translated to reducing malnutrition among children in the country. In fact, ‘one half of all rural children [in India] are underweight for their age – roughly the same proportion as in 1992.’ On a global scale, approximately 27-28% of all children in developing countries are said to be underweight or stunted, with South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounting for the bulk of the deficit.

While it is important to develop long range programs that improve employability through promoting education, it is also equally necessary to implement schemes that directly provide children with food to improve their health and well being.
To combat this problem of hunger, the World Food Program and the International Fund for Agricultural Development came up with a practical ‘twin track solution’.
• Track one involves the creation of employment opportunities that increase the productivity and incomes of the underprivileged.
• Track two strategies provide direct access to food that will improve the health of the malnourished, increasing their well being and, therefore, their productivity.

‘Food for education’ programs, such as that implemented by Akshaya Patra, address both the hunger and education issues at once.

Reducing hunger is of primary importance in the successful accomplishment of all the MDGs, as it is the root cause of suffering that exacerbates the poverty cycle. A hungry child cannot focus on anything else because of its need for food. In order to truly help a child, therefore, we must first ensure that the child is well nourished and healthy.

But this is not enough to bring about effective change. Children must also be educated in order to break through the cycle of poverty. Food insecure, impoverished families cannot afford food, let alone school fees, and depend on children to work for their meals. In such cases, programs like the mid-day meal scheme have a big impact on the child. By providing lunch at school, we are not only ensuring the health of the child and encouraging education, but also helping to prevent their necessity to work for food.

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A heart touching tale of a Donor.

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After a long telephonic conversation about Akshaya Patra, Rajeev (Assistant Manager – Tele Collection) managed to get an appointment from Mrs. Reddy (name changed) a Headmistress of a Primary school. Rajeev was trying to schedule the appointment in the second half of the day as the place was quite far away, but she told in an uncompromising voice “be in my office sharp at 9 o’ clock.”

Next morning Rajeev reached school 10 minutes before time and met the donor (Mrs. Reddy). She looked very stern and strict and reminded him of his old school days. Rajeev wondered why the entire Headmistress clan looks alike. Why do all of them wear the same grave faces?

The clock ticked 9 and Mrs. Reddy walked in the room. She took Rajeev to the prayer hall where a few hundred students were standing in rows with their hands folded for prayer. A photo frame caught Rajeev’s attention…the picture was of a young man. After the prayer Mrs. Reddy walked up to the photograph and put a garland around it. She then distributed sweets among the students and gave one to Rajeev too. Rajeev asked her what was the occasion and she said with a smile – “today is my son’s birthday”. Rajeev was glad to see her smiling for the first time and asked her to convey his best wishes to her son. She looked at Rajeev and replied back saying “he is no more with us. He was my only son and was an orthopedic doctor by profession. He expired 6 months after he got married leaving behind his beautiful wife and his old mom. Me and my daughter in law wanted to do something special on his birthday and decided to feed the underprivileged children through a genuine organization. We were happy to find Akshaya Patra. ” Telling this she took out her cheque book and signed a cheque of rupees six thousand and handed it over to Rajeev. Rajeev was so moved that he could not help himself from touching her feet and left the school without saying anything.

There are thousands of people like Mrs. Reddy who have lost many things in life but are still optimistic about the future. They still believe that we can bring about change and make this planet a better place to live in. Akshaya Patra salutes such people with Great Spirit and moves ahead to reach out to 5 million children by 2020.

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A few words from a volunteer

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There were days when poor students would go to Teachers house to have “Varanna” in which the students would be fed once in a week. On a rotation, the student would go to different teacher’s house and other rich people in the locality. Now, many of them have grown and have a respectable position in the society.
This clearly shows the relationship between the food and the education. The best a society can offer a child is the education; because once the child is educated they become a responsible citizen of this country. To provide a good education, the child should not be hungry. This is precisely the reasons why I wanted to voluntary “Akshaya Patra Foundation”.
When I first met the Akshaya Patra team, I was surprised to know they are using the latest Management concepts, statutory disclosures etc. There method of analysis, brain storming sessions was amazing. For me, I am trying to put the experience of my work (Strategic Planning) to Akshaya Patra and it turn take their best practices and implement in my company. It is a win- win situation for me.
The message I would like to give for other volunteers are, give the best of your knowledge, time, and experience to Akshaya Patra and in turn learn the dedication, hard work, practices from the Akshaya Patra. This is very unique because you can share and learn as well.

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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 take Akshaya Patra along with me,” he says.

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Wonder what Akshaya Patra has in store for the future…

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7:00 AM I slipped into a pair of oversized slippers, tucked my hair into a shower cap, and stepped into the hot and steamy kitchen, where human-sized cauldrons full of rice and sambhar were brewing. On my right, several large metal baskets were being filled with the exact same quantity of rice at the simple press of a button. Workers carried these containers and placed them under a row of faucets, where pressurized water filled the bowls and cleansed the rice. I turned back around to see water gush out from the bottom of the cauldrons. Clearly, the rice was being drained and it was ready to be packed.

India has double the rate of malnutrition of sub-Saharan Africa. Indian children enlist in menial jobs just so they can earn enough money to have one solid meal a day. As a result, about 13.5 million children in India do not attend school.

7:15 AM An aromatic smell was coming from the room on my right. I followed the smell into the area next door and my mouth salivated at the sight of a large bath full of sambhar with metal pipes protruding outwards from it. Vast amounts of sambhar emerged from the pipes and drained perfectly into steel pots below. I looked back up at the large bath and there were almost no traces of sambhar left. The steel pots sat on a conveyor belt and I tracked the containers as they moved into a room on the left. I watched in amazement as the belt transported dozens of tightly packed stainless steel vessels to custom-built Akshaya Patra trucks.

7:30 AM I looked at the clock on my wrist and the large hand was close to the “6.” The trucks had just revved their engines and started to drive away. They were on route to schools within 50 kilometers of the kitchen with enough food for 5,000 children packed in the back of their vehicles. Inside the kitchen, the workers acted in a mechanized fashion to swiftly move the pots and steam-clean every inch of the kitchen. Usha (an Akshaya Patra representative) then escorted me outside, and as we walked towards the dining hall she started telling me about the intelligently engineered kitchens.

India has double the rate of malnutrition of sub-Saharan Africa. Indian children enlist in menial jobs just so they can earn enough money to have one solid meal a day. As a result, about 13.5 million children in India do not attend school. Numerous studies have shown that education is the single most powerful factor that can take an entire family out of the poverty cycle, and within one generation, education can significantly improve one’s quality of life.

Akshaya Patra helps underprivileged children by serving one healthy, balanced mid-day meal at school and thus incentivizes children to continue their education. Akshaya Patra has become the largest mid-day meal program in the world and currently serves food to about 1.2 million children in India everyday.

I think it is truly incredible how just Akshaya Patra has such widespread impact on many different areas of society, such as health, education, gender inequality, and poverty, with just one solution- serving mid-day meals to school children. The government schools have measured Akshaya Patra’s impact and they have seen an increase in school enrollment, an increase in attendance, an increase in school performance, and a reduction in dropout rates. Additionally, malnutrition has decreased and socialization among all social castes has increased..

I visited on a Tuesday morning and tasted the mouth-watering khichidi, sabzi, and sambhar that would be served to the school children later that day. It was so tasty that I asked for more and more servings. I think it is absolutely amazing how Akshaya Patra has utilized technology to consistently provide such delicious and nutritious food to starving children. Now, I wonder what Akshaya Patra has in store for the future…

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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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Government encourages voluntary contributions

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In 2003, a committee, headed by the former Chief Justice of India* recommended Akshaya Patra as an eligible project that could raise donations with 100% tax benefits to the donors. The program was reviewed again in 2006 and 2009 when 100% tax benefits were further extended for 3 years.

This has been crucial to Akshaya Patra, as it enabled the Foundation to raise the funds required for sustenance and growth. Despite the Government’s generous subsidies, we still rely heavily on the contributions of our kind donors to maintain the day to day operations.
The Private-Public Partnership model followed by Akshaya Patra ensures that the mid-day meal program is conducted within the guidelines of the Government. These guidelines (issued by Ministry of Human Resources Department) contain the following clause:

 “The state government shall be fully responsible in implementing the program through NGOs support either for a cooked meal or pre cooked food variant in eligible schools.   To this extent the State Government or the NGO concerned, may mobilize resources for conversion of food grains in to a cooked meal.”
–    The Guidelines, in Annexure IX Para 7
Akshaya Patra’s application to the National Committee contained the following basis for the sustainability of the program:

•    Conversion cost support from State Govt         25%
•    Subsidized grain allotment                               25%
•    Donations                                                         45%
•    Others                                                                5%

In addition, the Trust Deed, filed with the various departments of the government, states:
8.xi To accept gifts, donations or contributions from individuals, corporate and non-profit organizations around the world so far as they are not inconsistent with the objects of the trust.

Nation building through civic partnership is also a very important aspect of the Government’s mid-day meal program. Therefore, voluntary contributions from the community to improve the meal are encouraged by the Guidelines of revised National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education, 2004.

Akshaya Patra also tries to implement this aspect in its program by bringing together the movers and shakers of India to help close to 1.2 million children across the nation. Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, Sri Narayan Murthy, Smt Sudha Murthy, Smt Rajshree Birla, Sri Sajjan Jindal and Sri Sunil Mittal are just some of the leading members of society who are donors and well wishers of Akshaya Patra. In fact, in the year 2002, when we formally launched the fund raising for the Akshaya Patra program, the then Education Minister in Karnataka, Sri H.Vishwanath was the first person to contribute towards the program.

On a global level, the Foundation hopes to raise awareness for the mid-day meal program and increase support for the children of our country from people the world over. Any funds raised from foreign countries through our campaign are permitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, under Foreign Contributions (Regulations) Act. These make up only around 10% of our total requirements. All statements of donations received are reported to the Home Ministry year after year.

In fact, the Foundation has strong culture of reporting and transparency that complies with sound disclosure norms. The Gold Shield for Financial Reporting was conferred to the Akshaya Patra by the Institute of Chartered Accounts of India for our excellence in reporting.

In everything that we do, we have maintained strong ethics and adhered to all the guidelines and regulations set by the Government. Through it all, our only hope is to reach out to the children of our nation.

* the National Committee for Promotion of Social and Economic Welfare, Department of Revenue, Ministry of Finance, Government of India)

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Akshaya Patra to feed drought-affected children in Rajasthan

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Rajasthan, the nation’s largest state, has long been considered one of India’s brightest jewels. Adorned with a rich, vibrant cultural history and beautiful landscape, it is one of the most favored tourist destinations of the country. With parts of the Indus Valley Civilization located in Rajasthan, it is considered the cradle of India’s birth.

However, Rajasthan’s glorious past is in stark contrast to the reality it faces today. The state is continually hit with severe drought that cripples the thousands of people in the region who survive on agriculture. In fact, in the last 100 years, it has been hit with 84 droughts.

This year again, the Government of Rajasthan has declared ‘Akal’ or drought in the Nathdwara district of the state. In October of 2002 when it last faced such a situation, nearly 40 million people were affected and 50 million livestock suffered. With so many severe situations constantly recurring, the State Government of Rajasthan has taken various steps to bring relief to the area. It is working with the United Nations Development Program to strengthen its co-ordination systems and revive traditional water harvesting structures. Many other organizations are also involved in Rajasthan’s efforts to combat the problems being faced.

Akshaya Patra is one such organization. On the request of the State Government of Rajasthan, our kitchen in Nathdwara is now functioning around the year to provide food for drought-affected children in the area. By doing so, we hope to bring relief and provide any help we can to the beautiful and charming people of Rajasthan.

Source: United Nations Development Program

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Akshaya Patra pledges to GO GREEN…on the occasion of WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY

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Akshaya Patra Foundation, the largest school meal program feeding more than 1.2 million children every day with the aim to eliminate poverty and hunger has also established themselves in the field of innovation and technology. On the occasion of World Environment Day, The Akshaya Patra Foundation has taken another leaning step in serving the society and its natural resources by taking eco friendly initiatives to conserve the energy resources and thereby create a better ecological environment.   The proposed task include –
Use of Briquette run boilers instead of diesel run boilers, wherein the briquettes are made out of groundnut husk or rice bran(bi products of the cooking oil industry), thereby saving on 788.95MT of carbon and reduce our carbon foot print to an enormous extent.
Adopted standardization of vessel washing technique, whereby they were able to recycle more than 50% of consumed water. The Akshaya Patra Foundation has come up with this initiative of standardization of vessel washing so that they could save up lot of water and also recycle consumed water to reuse again.
These efforts would surely mark a positive contribution towards our Mother Earth.
Akshaya Patra Foundation works towards sustainable development and believes that with the effective and efficient use of technology we can remove hunger and poverty and make this planet a better place for our children to live in.

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