CISCO Employees Visit Akshaya Patra Kitchen

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<p style=”text-align: justify;”><img style=”float: left; margin: 10px; border: 0px;” src=”” title=”CISCO Employees Visit Akshaya Patra” border=”0″ alt=”The Akshaya Patra Foundation”  />
A simple building on a small hillock at Vasanthapura belies ten years of working towards a better India.  The drive up the hill, paved with stones that make for a rough road, ends at a nondescript glass door. In the backdrop stands a formidable 270 ton silo, a silent testament to the work at hand, a clue to what lies inside the structure. On the 2nd floor of this building, a group of around 30 sit with concentrated focus to be a part of a project that has been a decade in the making. </p>
<p>It was at Akshaya Patra’s Vasanthpura kitchen, on December 8th, that a group of CISCO employees volunteered to take part in the mid-day meal program, one of the biggest developmental success stories of India. To go behind the curtains of that story, is to reveal a tale of 121 million smiles. </p>
The mid-day meal program provides lunch to underprivileged children in Government and Government aided schools across the country. Of the 121 million children that currently benefit from the scheme, Akshaya Patra directly impacts 1.2 million, nearly 1% of the total number of beneficiaries.
And it all begins everyday in the Foundation’s 19 kitchens across the country. As the group of 30 assembled found out, it is no easy task. The mere logistics of serving the 100,000 children that the Vasanthapura kitchen reaches out to has taken years to perfect. For more than 5 hours on a cool Wednesday, the CISCO employees took part in a few of the preparations that go into making those meals. On a daily basis, that includes everything from cutting between 5-6 tons of vegetables and cooking tons of rice and dal to grating nearly 2000 fresh coconuts.  </p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”><img style=”float:right; margin: 10px; border: 0px;” src=”” title=”CISCO Employees Visit Akshaya Patra” border=”0″ alt=”Akshata Patra”  />
Closely observing the activities taking place, stands Chandrakanth Bhandarkar, in charge of hygiene on the floor. He explains how all vegetables are washed in 50 parts per million chlorine water and then thoroughly rinsed in plain water. Sectioning those vegetables into smaller pieces and chopping them in vegetable cutters are the volunteers from CISCO. </p>
<p>“It’s good to see that at least someone out there is doing something for children in the country,” says Karthik S.G.. He operates the vegetable cutting machine, surrounded by towering cartons full of freshly chopped produce. On the same 2nd floor, his colleagues help prepare the vegetables and rice that will become a part of the following day’s menu. </p>
<p>In two neat rows behind the busily working team, on the floor of the kitchen, lie glistening cylindrical lids, almost unnoticed in the flurry of activity. When Arun Kumar V., Assistant Manager of Operations lifts one lid, he reveals chutes travelling down to the 1st floor, each one corresponding to the cauldrons below where the actual cooking takes place. </p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”><img style=”float: left; margin: 10px; border: 0px;” src=”” title=”CISCO Employees Visit Akshaya Patra” border=”0″ alt=”The Akshaya Patra Foundation”  />“We use walkie talkies to co-ordinate between floors so that exactly the right amount of ingredients goes into each cauldron,” he explains.
And what exactly is the right amount? Each rice cauldron cooks close to 100 kgs of rice in 15 minutes. Each sambar cauldron is used to prepare 1200 liters of sambar using between 15 to 16 kilograms of masala. Such large quantities of rice and dal are stored on the 3rd floor of the facility, in what are known as day silos, which have a capacity of around 7 to 10 tons. These silos are refilled each day with rice from the monthly 270 ton silo outside the facility. </p>
<p>“Bucket elevators are used to take rice up into the silos. In cooking, we use single jacket steam heated cauldrons. We used to use double jackets but it took a lot of time to cook rice in those, so we changed to a single jacket. The steam is generated in boilers. Earlier diesel was the source of fuel, but now we’ve replaced that with briquettes. They’re economic, and more than that, they’re eco-friendly.”
From the cauldrons on the 1st floor, the freshly cooked food travels via chutes to the ground floor where it is packed and loaded into waiting, specially designed food vans. </p>
<p style=”text-align: justify;”><img style=”float: right; margin: 10px; border: 0px;” src=”” title=”CISCO Employees Visit Akshaya Patra” border=”0″ alt=”Akshaya Patra”  />The complexities of the entire operations are divided into various departments, each one working in synchrony with the other to prepare meals on time: maintenance, quality, distribution, purchase, housekeeping, accounts and others. This harmony of activity is precisely what impressed the CISCO employees most. </p>
<p>“It was a wonderful experience,” said Deepa as their volunteering came to an end.</p>
<p>The mid-day meal program, though a simple concept in itself, has brought about great change in India. It has been able to address many of the immediate and long term challenges faced by the nation. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization,
“The impact on governance and food security can be seen in several countries that have already recognized a “justiciable” right to food. In India, for example, the Supreme Court mandated cooked lunches in all of the country’s schools. Both nutrition and school attendance have improved dramatically where the programme has been implemented, particularly among girls. Given the critical role of maternal nutrition and education in breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty, the benefits will be felt for generations to

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Akshaya Patra supplies food to flood victims

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<p style="text-align: justify;"> <img style="float: left; margin: 10px; border: 0px;" src="" border="0" alt="The Akshaya Patra Foundation" />The Akshaya Patra Foundation has come to the rescue of several thousand victims who were affected by floods caused
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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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