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Assam, a beautiful state located in North-East India and Akshaya Patra

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Assam, a rich, vibrant state that is famous for its breath-taking scenic beauty, is known to be the Gateway to North East India. The state is charming with its unspoiled natural beauty, swarming with wildlife, tea gardens and warm, welcoming people.

Though rich in natural resources, Assam is also home to many natural disasters which lead to the displacement of large population time and again. And hence Assam also has a large population that is displaced and economically disadvantaged. Tens of thousands of children are unable to attend school, as priority given to surviving and earning for a square meal a day is greater than accessing education.

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Recognising this, in 2009, Akshaya Patra was invited by the State Government of Assam, to implement the Mid Day Meal Scheme in Guwahati as a measure to reduce dropout rates, increase enrolment in schools and eliminate child labour in the state capital. Akshaya Patra embraced the invitation and immediately set up shop in Guwahati. However it was not an easy task. Provision for basic amenities such as drinking water, drainage facility and even electricity had to be made. Hence the setting up had to be made from scratch. A reverse osmosis plant was set up for drinking water, drainage facility was constructed and generators were installed for reliable electric supply. During February 2010, the kitchen was officially inaugurated and today Akshaya Patra serves over 53,000 children from 592 schools in Guwahati, Assam.

blog-about-assam-2The kitchen at Guwahati is an ISO 22000:2005 certified centralised unit. Apart from catering to the schools, the unit has also participated in other developmental initiatives within the city. For example, 47,000 steel plates were distributed to Government school children in the recent past. During its initial days, Akshaya Patra had even provided 15 schools with bore-wells and toilets, in collaboration with Infinity Townships Pvt Ltd.

You could read case stories of the beneficiaries from Guwahati here.

Akshaya Patra has been working towards spreading its wings in the state of Assam and has been gifted with support from the State Government of Assam, by allotting land and giving subsidies. However the organisation needs continued support from philanthropic donors and well-wishers to gain momentum to reach more and more children in the state. Support us by donating online or contact us on the below address.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation
Village Numalijula, Mouza Sila,
Siduri Gopha, NH – 31
Amingaon, Guwahati – 781031 (Assam)

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What sets us apart…

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Founded in the year 2000 with just 5 schools and 1500 students in Bangalore, Karnataka, The Akshaya Patra Foundation today feeds 1.3 million hungry mouths at Government schools across 9 states and 21 locations in India. Thirteen years ago, the pioneers of this not-for-profit organisation probably did not know that their dream of reaching out to over a million children would become reality one day. Commenced as a pocket-sized initiative, over the past years, The Akshaya Patra Foundation today has been recognised with various accolades and awards. This is an account on why this organisation deserves the credits it has earned.awards_0

It is a challenging task to make such immense amounts of meals on a daily basis. But with ample support from the Government as well as individual and corporate donors, feeding 1.3 million children every day has become a possibility for The Akshaya Patra Foundation.

Equally important is the fact that the donors, well-wishers and knowledge enthusiasts of this organisation are informed about how their donations are utilised. Hence, another aspect given utmost priority in this NGO is transparency and accountability with regards to funds.

Recently, the Foundation was awarded for the fifth consecutive year with the Gold Shield by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) for Excellence in Financial Reporting for the year 2012-2013. Akshaya Patra is by far the only not-for-profit entity to have gained entrance into the ICAI Hall of Fame since it won the Gold Shield for the fifth time.

The League of American Communications Professionals (LACP) also presented The Akshaya Patra Foundation with Gold Award for excellence in its industry in the development of the organisation’s Annual Report within the fiscal year 2012-2013. At the PRCI Global Communication Conclave 2014, the organisation was recognised with Corporate Collateral Award (Gold) in the Annual Reports category. This is only some of the much recognition earned by the Foundation.

The Annual Report of The Akshaya Patra Foundation contains a highly detailed account on its financials and their breakup recorded over that particular fiscal year. Right from the amount of funds gained through Grants from the Central and State Governments and donations, the report gives a complete account on the Foundation’s monetary management. Large amount of funds is required not only to erect massive centralised kitchen infrastructures, but also to maintain them. Since the centralised kitchens utilise customised equipment for most of their operations, it is quite a challenge to restore old ones with new or to fix equipment. Funds are also needed to train employees and kitchen staff to ensure rigorous hygiene and quality while cooking.

The constant and strict focus on transparency has always resulted in accolades and felicitation for Akshaya Patra. The Foundation’s Board currently comprises eight Trustees who hail from diverse professional backgrounds. This Board plays a primary role in ensuring the maintenance of an impeccable record of funds utilised while implementing the programme, since the Foundation follows a regular process of submitting Monthly Financials to the Board.

The Board of Trustees follows a systematic method of governance within the organisation. At The Akshaya Patra Foundation, there is a list of mandatory objectives or actions to be observed by each member of the Board, one of which is gathering for regular meetings.The versatility of these members brings out suggestions and opinions during these meetings that help better the functioning of the Foundation so as to aid in its outreach and expansion while maintaining financial transparency and reporting.

At The Akshaya Patra Foundation, we believe that getting nominated by the jury for all these awards itself is a level of recognition, while winning them is another. This constant acknowledgement and appreciation of our work has always motivated us to progress. We also believe that the relentless support from the Governments and donors, as well as testimonies from our beneficiaries is helping us approach our mission of reaching out to 5 million children by 2020.

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Food that Beats the Heat

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Summer’s kicking in, and with the sunshine and picnics come sweat, grime and a whole host of weather related diseases. As much as people wait for winter to end and summer to begin, very few are physically prepared for the toll these couple of months takes on you. Personally I prefer to warmth to the cold any day, but I still need to make sure my system is equipped to stay healthy and fight bacteria right through the season.

Some of the common issues people face in the summer are heat stroke, dizziness, dehydration and gastrointestinal problems like vomiting, diarrhea and food poisoning. Because of the heat, the body experiences excessive sweating which leads to loss of water from the body, but also a loss of electrolytes like sodium and potassium.

food-beats-heatTherefore it is vital to supplement your diet in the summer with liquids, fruits and vegetables that will replace the nutrients that your body is losing. My personal favorite drinks for the summer are coconut water, lime juice, lassi (deconstructed curd) and of course plain drinking water.

To eat vegetables like cucumber, tomato, Okra (lady’s finger), pumpkin are excellent for easy digestion during the summer. High in water content or light on the stomach, it’s important to choose fruits and vegetables that keep your system balanced.

While it might be hard to adapt your lifestyle to suit the seasons, the payoff is well worth it. Luckily for me, as I frequent the Akshaya Patra kitchen for my afternoon meals, my diet is well taken care off. At the Akshaya Patra headquarters in Bangalore we are beneficiaries of the mid-day meal programme, and I was delighted to find an array of healthy summer food like raita (Indian yogurt sauce) containing cucumber and carrot, pumpkin dishes, Okra laden with tomato, along with curd to wash it all down.

This very food is made available to children in government schools all across Bangalore, and I was thrilled to see that their summer diet already includes everything they need to take this beautiful season head on. With the mid-day meals feeding them right, it’s time for these children to do what children do best – Play.

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Internet to optimise development

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Over the years, the Internet has gained so much significance and popularity, that it has involved with different kinds of businesses, institutions, organisations and all kinds of networks. The Akshaya Patra Foundation is one such entity to have benefitted massively from the internet. The organisation uses the internet for collation of information, communication, networking, information for collaboration and partnerships, fund raising and branding. Various channels like search engine optimisation, social bookmarking, social media marketing, e-mail marketing and blogging help in creating awareness and raising donations.

The internet lets the organisation place vast information on the global map like its history, operational structure and financial data. Besides, the Internet also lets the NGO share its case studies and success stories with the world. The not-for-profit organisation which provides free mid-day meals to 1.3 million children across India has benefitted immensely from social media networking.

The advantages of social media to NGOs are phenomenal. A single ‘like’ on the Akshaya Patra Facebook page or a single ‘re-tweet’ by a famed personality on Twitter, posted on the Akshaya Patra Twitter page, has the potential to create maximum impact. It’s a platform for this organisation to engage with existing donors, volunteers and fans. It further helps in generating funds, garner supporters and in brand recognition.

The internet also helps in maintaining records, carrying out statistical analysis due to the availability of vast information and maintaining transparency, above all. A website can carry all the information that a donor, beneficiary or an employee would seek.

The Akshaya Patra Facebook page has 51,261 likes which is a 100 per cent increment from the previous quarter. Renowned personalities like Helen Clark of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Rajdeep Sardesai of CNN-IBN, Sonu Nigam from the entertainment industry have been following Akshaya Patra on Twitter and have also re-tweeted posts shared by the organisation. The organisation’s YouTube channel has about 111, 115 viewers. The NGO is also present on Google Plus, Pinterest and LinkedIn.

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World Food Day 2013

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The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was founded on October 16, 1945 and to honour this day World Food Day is observed every year around the world.

Every year a theme is set to celebrate the day, and the World Food Day theme for 2013 is “Sustainable Food Systems for Food Security and Nutrition.”

Most of the themes are concerned with agriculture and encouragement to invest in education and health because the improvement of these three areas will result in the overall development of the country.

India is in a state of urgency to eradicate hunger, poverty and illiteracy. Proving food to children as an incentive to enroll and attend school poses as a solution for all three of these issues plaguing our country. When children receive wholesome, tasty meals in school they will not have to resort to child labour to earn money for food. They stay in school, and a satiated appetite allows them to focus on their academics and eventually complete school and be prepared for mainstream society.

world-food-daySince its inception in 2000, the Akshaya Patra Foundation has strived to improve the state of food security and literacy for children in the country. The organization provides mid-day meals to over 1.3 million children in India every day. The food prepared in its centralized and decentralized kitchen is delivered to 1,0050 schools in nine states.

This programme aims at not only eradicating hunger and illiteracy but also significantly improving child nutrition. According to the Global Hunger Index, in India 43.5 per cent of children under the age of five are underweight. Akshaya Patra ensures the use of healthy ingredients in the mid-day meals that satisfy all the dietary requirements for growing children.

It is our collective responsibility to do all we can to ensure that education and food is readily available to all children of India. It is our duty as more fortunate citizens of society to help those who rely on us. Together we can build a better India.  Donate today!

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Music – A Way of Life and A Delight for Children

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Everyday we play many roles and our roles differ from situation to situation. Broadly we can divide our roles in two categories- personal and professional. On professional front we mostly play a specific role. But, what’s interesting is, in the personal category we unknowingly play multiple roles. At this point, just let your thoughts take a diversion towards a quick question- God forbid, but would I have been able to carry out all my activities with ease if I was deprived of my sight, or for that matter any other physical element? Indeed, it’s a thought evoking question. But the purpose behind this question was primarily to introduce A.D Shantha Kumari- an amazing person and inspiration for all.

It’s lunch time at the Government Higher Primary School Mahalakshmipuram, Bangalore. A few children surround Shantha Kumari and inform her that “Pulao” is on the menu for the mid-day meal.  Shilpa S, a grade 7 student, helps the music teacher wash hands and brings a tiffin box filled with Pulao. Shilpa says, “She is our favourite teacher. We all love the patriotic song she teaches us.” To this, Shantha says, “Children enjoy the patriotic song because these kinds of songs infuse great energy among them.”

Akshaya-Patra-mid-day-meal-scheme-Shantha-Kumari-music-teacher-Shantha Kumari is a favourite teacher; a good cook; a music lover; and a caring mother and wife. She is able to quickly adapt to these roles one after another with ease. While many of these roles are often shouldered by other working women too, what makes Shantha stand out is the fact that she takes on these roles in spite of being visually impaired. The teacher, who has over three decades of experience, is known for her dedication and enthusiasm.

 

A quick flashback about how her life took the path of music:

Being visually impaired, as a child she attended the Deaf and Blind school in the city of Mysore,Karnataka.  Her parents who were captivated by her melodious voice encouraged her to study music.  After passing her seniors in classical music, she applied for a job and soon enough she was recruited as a teacher. At the age of eighteen, she began her career as a music teacher in a school in Kapu, a small town in the coastal district of Karnataka. She used to teach for 36 hours a week for children from grade 3 to grade 7. She says, “I enjoy teaching because for me music is a way of life. It connects me to people in a manner which cannot be expressed.” Shantha went on to teach at various schools in Bangalore and Mysore.

The mother of two says, “My children love my cooking. They say I make ‘upma’ and ‘roti’ really well. Shantha’s daughter has completed her engineering and is working for a multi-national company, while her son is studying in grade 12. Recounting how she spends the day, she says with a smile, “I even watch TV; I listen to the music shows, cookery shows and a few sit-coms.” It’s a story of inspiration indeed and alongside a story of determination too.

Currently, working in a school where Akshaya Patra serves mid-day meals to the students, she says,” Akshaya Patra’s mid-day meal programme has had a positive impact on attendance. Earlier many children would faint in the class because they would come to school hungry, now though such instances have reduced, if children do faint, we give such children the mid-day meal even before its lunch time.”

Soon, the school bell rings, signifying the end of the lunch hour. The children have enjoyed eating the mid-day meal, and are back to their respective classes. The seventh graders excitedly assemble in the class awaiting their music teacher. After enjoying a brief chat with the students, Shantha instructs the class to repeat the line she sings. Within moments Shantha and the children are engrossed in a world where music is the only language that can be seen, heard and felt.

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The Blue Bus Of Hope

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The chugging of the mill by the yard,

Have no ears of expectation and heed.

The toots and tweets of the mobile jungle

Could raise no alarm indeed.

When the clock keeps counting

Hunger in the midst surmounting

But hope in fix support the earnest–

A day to change for the best.

 

The heartbeats are almost palpable

For anyone to stick a label.

The eyes of unblemished faith gleam–

A few smiles settle the aura

What shall come is not a story,

But a promise that stays and lives

Feeds the tender minds and sinews

To face each day renewed.

 

It takes turns and burns the miles

Loaded with sundry reasons to smile.

The numbed clang of steels inside,

With fresh meals invite all visitors young.

It changes lane and appears on the vanes,

The colour azure stands apart,

The marks and symbols are signs of scheme

That would change a child’s dream.

 

That little blue bus hopping on the pebbles

Has arrived to feed the little folks.

Every day is marked a good day–

With smiles and giggles of innocence,

Echo rebound the compound wall.

The sight is a worthy scene to reveal

How little can have so much weight

Enough to drive us further ahead.

 

It is not just a meal a day.

Grains add fuel to aspirations

Soup that nourish the souls and spirits

The blue bus does bring light and delight.

Children sing ode and praises after,

Renewed strength and vigour run their moods

They know a brighter day lies in wait

A day of new lessons and visions.

 

The blue bus of hope and promise ply–

A trend of an unbroken tread each day

Many dreams need a fresh morning

Many wishes need to be true

Many miles on their little legs

Many songs to sing along

Many lessons to learn, books to read

For a better, brighter tomorrow to come.

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The ‘Never Ending Pot’ That Feeds India’s Needy Children

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Twenty-three young students in the Indian state of Bihar died in July after eating a midday school lunch cooked with oil contaminated by pesticides. As a father of young children, I was deeply saddened by this tragic and easily preventable event. But through this heartbreaking incident I was reminded of my experience witnessing the  work of organizations such as Akshaya Patra that contribute to feeding India’s children.

blog-2In the last decade, India has experienced economic growth, but the majority of its population continues to face chronic food insecurity. According to UNICEF, one-third of the world’s malnourished children live in India.

In an effort to address this issue, India’s Supreme Court in 2001 directed all primary schools across the country to provide a free lunch to students. Instantly, the Midday Meal campaign became the largest school lunch program in the world, feeding more than 120 million children.

Just a year earlier, a group of Bangalore-based International Society of Krishna Consciousness, or ISKCON, monks had started a small pilot project to address the number of children in their state who were not attending school because they were forced by their parents to labor in the fields or on the streets.blog-3

Many of the children who did attend school rarely ate breakfast and could not concentrate because of hunger. The monks felt that if they offered a free meal to children who attended school they could have a double impact: get children to school for an education, and provide one substantial meal each school day.

The monks looked to the Sanskrit epic, the Mahabarat, for the inspiration for the foundation’s name. One of the central characters, Bhima, the second eldest brother of the five Pandava brothers, was known as a brave and vengeful warrior. Being a man of vast size and strength, he had a voracious appetite. Consequently, he was allotted half the family’s food, with the rest going to his four brothers. The five Pandava brothers shared a wife, Draupadi, who was responsible for feeding the family. To assist her in this mammoth task, Draupadi was given a cooking vessel that provided a never-ending supply of food. This pot was called the Akshaya Patra.

That group of monks had some ambitious foresight in selecting the name for the foundation, as each day Akshaya Patra now prepares 1.3 million fresh and healthy meals for schoolchildren in nine Indian states.

blog-4In India, tastes vary, so school meals do too

Having lived in India for four years, I was eager to see how one of Akshaya Patra’s 16 centralized kitchens operated. In spring 2010, I traveled to the eastern coastal town of Puri, in the state of Orissa. In the shadow of the famous Jagganath temple, I met with the kitchen manager Deelip at the kitchen set up to facilitate the preparation of the lunch meals. Deelip explained that to meet the demands of cooking such vast quantities of food in a hygienic manner, a kitchen staff of 30 starts at 2:30 a.m. to process 8,800 pounds of rice, 2,400 pounds of arhar dal and 8,800 pounds of mixed vegetables. By 6 a.m. all the food has been portioned into large, stainless-steel containers and waits on the back of delivery trucks for the journey to the 50,000 children at village schools.

Akshaya Patra realized early on that it would not be a good idea to impose unfamiliar flavors on children. Thus, the weekly rotating vegetarian menus consider regional taste differences and look to local markets for seasonal ingredients. For example, in the wheat belt of the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the kitchen in Vrindavan operates a roti-making machine that can make 40,000 chapatis in one hour. By contrast, in the southern state of Karnataka, the menus regularly include rice, sambhar and curd.

In a recent conversation CP Das, vice chairman of the Akshaya Patra foundation, said that as the foundation has grown it has continued to focus on three key quality dimensions where food safety is the No. 1 priority, and the nutritional and flavor aspects of the food are close behind.blog-1

The foundation also operates a few small decentralized kitchens in rural areas under similar conditions as the one at the school in Bihar. However, they have been able to overcome the rustic settings by addressing basic operational logistics, such as access to clean water, hygienic conditions in which to prepare and store the food, and the presence of trained monitors to help prevent corruption and contamination. Das clarified that Akshaya Patra is currently training more than 200 women who operate decentralized government school kitchens in rural Bihar.

Despite its success, there have been critics that state it is illegal for Akshaya Patra and ISKCON-Bangalore to collect donations in India and abroad while at the same time receiving money from state and national governments for the midday meal program. Its critics further claim some of the monies have been used for real estate investments and to make board trustees wealthy. Das denies the charges and highlights a 2010 report by the House Committee of the Karnatakan Legislative Assembly that indicates the foundation did not misuse any government funds and there is nothing wrong in collecting donations to maintain high food-quality standards. He explains the government funding covers 60 percent of its operational costs and they rely on donations to cover the remainder.

Das is particularly proud that in areas where Akshaya Patra operates, a noticeable increase in attendance, particularly of girls, has occurred. But he knows Akshaya Patra can do more.  The foundation’s hope is that more state governments will invite them to set up kitchens to fulfill their mandate that no child should be deprived of an education because of hunger.


Zester Daily contributor Cameron Stauch is a Canadian chef living in Hanoi, Vietnam. In Canada, he cooks for the Governor General of Canada..

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A peek into Akshaya Patra through the eyes of a 14 year old

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Akshaya Patra – Unlimited Food For Education

It was 6 o’clock in the morning on a warm, beautiful day when I was whisked off to Hare Krishna Hill in Bangalore, India. In the distance the silhouette of the ISKON temple was distinctly outlined against the morning sky. After a short drive up the hill, we arrived at a collection of large buildings with the aromatic smell of food drifting in the air. I am Shubha Jagannath, 14 years of age, born and brought up in San Jose, California. I came to HK Hill to visit the renowned Akshaya Patra Foundation, a massive force that feeds 1.3 million needy children across India every day. I had heard about this organisation through my family and was intrigued about how they accomplish this herculean task so efficiently. I got the wonderful opportunity to visit the kitchen from a relative and couldn’t wait to see how they carried out such a massive operation.

download (3)The Kitchen

Soon as I entered the kitchen I was surrounded by an amazing sight. Sparkling metal containers were filled to the brim with steaming Bisi Bele Bhaat and vegetables. Men in bright blue hair nets tirelessly ran around adding vegetables and stirring the food. We were introduced to Mr Kunjabihari who offered to show us around. Astounding 1 lakh children are fed daily from that single kitchen. The employees were working from midnight to complete the task of cooking and delivering food in time for so many schools while the rest of us were asleep. The dedication and work-ethic of those who are working in the kitchen is really inspiring.

download (4)As Mr. Kunjabihari continued to show us around, we found that the kitchen was not only a place with marvelous people, but also a place with many technological marvels. Innovations were made to make the food faster and more hygienic. Roti making machines, vegetable cutters powered by BMW motors, and steam-powered cooking were a few of the many amazing equipment there. The kitchen was in the most hygienic condition possible. Workers constantly cleaned the containers and Mr. Kunjabihari later told us that until this day they haven’t gotten even a single complaint about a hair in the food! This is quite fantastic for a problem that occurs so often in our own kitchens. The quality of the food was another wonder. Mr. Kunjabihari explained how each ingredient was thoroughly tested before being used in the meal, and how each food sample was also tested to insure that harmful materials are absent.

download (5)As it got closer to delivery time, the mouth-watering Bisi Bele Bhaat and sweet were packed into sterilized steamed containers and loaded in the colourful Akshaya Patra vans. The vans are equipped with gadgets like tracking devices and sensors to ensure that the doors are closed properly and so that the food reaches the schools safely. And after being loaded, the vans swiftly drove off to deliver to the eagerly waiting children.

(To know about Shubha’s school visit, click here)

 

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Akshaya Patra Aiding in Keeping The Education Growth Indicator High

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An Article In Times Of India says that India is expected to miss the crucial UN Millennium Development Goal (MDG), including those related to reduction in poverty, hunger and infant mortality, according to a government report. It indicates-

  • While India is expected to lag behind on health indicators, the performance is up to the mark on education front.
  • It is expected to meet the target to ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike will be able to complete a full course of primary education.
  • “Achieving universal primary education is round the corner,” the report said.
  • The data shows that the country is well set to achieve 100% primary education for children ahead of 2015.
  • “Gender parity has already been achieved in primary education (in 2007-08 itself) and the disparity in secondary education is set to disappear by 2015,” the report noted.

As for education these are really very motivating and pleasing facts. If  we are on the right track as far as education is concerned all other stations can be reached sooner or later. It instils hope as value of education is well recognized. Advantages of education are not hidden from any one. Be it individual growth or the growth of the society and nation. At the same time it is the single answer to so many socio economic problems. Be it… malnutrition, illiteracy, child labour, preventable diseases, abuse & exploitation, unemployment, social evils or hazard to environment. Here we can rightly quote Mr Nelson Mandela who said that “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.”

Government has done their part in setting the basic framework of education by opening schools, making education free and by doing other related arrangements. Many awareness programmes through different channels of communication have been run.

Akshaya Patra is contributing in this direction by promoting education by feeding the school children. Akshaya Patra is the world’s largest NGO running mid–day meal programme providing hot and nutritious meal to school children. By providing food Akshaya Patra is attracting children to come to school and also reducing the dropout rate from school. Akshaya Patra’s single meal becomes an incentive for these children and contributes in increasing the attendance. Here the role of Akshaya Patra is very crucial as to make use of the education facilities provided by various government and non government organizations.

Akshaya-Patra-mid-day-meal-inspires-gullu-orissa-1Akshaya Patra started their operation by feeding 1500 children in five schools of Bangalore now it has scaled up to 1.3 million children through 19 centres across 9 states of India. This is done through centralized and decentralized model of kitchens. Through centralized kitchen it feeds the children of urban and semi urban areas on the other hand decentralized kitchen is meant for the interior areas which have difficult terrain. Endeavour of Akshaya Patra enables the education to reach many and to the far flung areas.

Gullu, a child from tribal area  of Orissa got attracted to school just because of food. Now he walks five miles per day and attends the school. There are many such stories where parents allowed their children to join school because of Akshaya Patra’s mid day meal.

All this good work has been possible with the collective effort of many. Let this continue and with more vigour so that Akshaya Patra can feed many more children  and support in building the future of India.

Source: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/topic/India-to-miss-UN-goals-for-poverty

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