Shridhar Venkat, CEO of Akshaya Patra, along with T.V. Mohandas Pai, a Trustee with the organisation addressed a gathering of Rotary Club members recently. Some of the dignitaries present at this gathering were Dr. João Cravinho, the Ambassador of the European Union to India; Shailesh Vishnubhai Haribhakti, Advisor at Gaja Capital Partners, Director of IDBI Capital Market Services Ltd; Sumantra Sen, CEO JSW Foundation and Madhav Das, Chief Communication Officer of Deutche Bank.
In their discussion Shridhar and Mohandas Pai spoke about the work the Foundation has undertaken in reducing hunger and poverty amongst children in India, the progress the organisation has made through its mid-day meal programme, and the distance they have yet to go.
“Our vision statement is that no child in India will be deprived of education because of hunger. India is home to 40% of the 165 million malnourished children in the world. 40% of our country’s children are malnourished and about 8.1 million children are out of school. Imagine being put in a classroom without any dinner or breakfast. Due to poverty, children drop out of school and take up menial jobs, missing out on the benefits of education. We have found that education is the most powerful factor to take an entire family out of the cycle of poverty,” says Shridhar, explaining the core focus of Akshaya Patra’s work.
Addressing a serious concern of food safety and quality while providing these nutritious meals to children, Shridhar also talked about the crucial role technology plays in Akshaya Patra’s operations model to cook food efficiently, both in terms of time and raw material. “This requires a lot of automation and the kitchens boast of conveyor belts and machines that can cook for 1,000 children in just 15 minutes. This also means the food is practically untouched by hand making it sterile and hygienic. The organisation also makes sure that the food is piping hot when delivered to the child,” he says.
“Akshaya Patra not only takes care of the hunger aspect but it also takes care of the socialisation objective. All the children, irrespective of caste, creed and religion come together and share a good meal,” Shridhar adds, giving us a glimpse into the greater role the mid-day meal programme plays in transforming society.
Mohandas Pai also expounded on how Akshaya Patra has gone above and beyond in its goal of reducing hunger in India, especially during times of disaster. “There was a cloudburst in Rajasthan, which resulted in floods. In 24 hours, we mobilized and supplied food for 50,000 people. Even in the last Nepal earthquake, we were able to send rotis (Indian flatbread) for 100,000 people in 24 hours,” he says proudly. The Foundation is even now working with the Jamsetji Tata Trust and Sipradian Sahayata Sanstha to facilitate building a field kitchen in Nepal to provide healthy food to the earthquake affected region.
Ending the discussion by urging the Rotary Club members to support Akshaya Patra’s work Mohandas Pai said, “The latest data reveals that 30% of India’s children from 0-5 years are malnourished. Some die possibly because of contaminated water and lack of toilets, but largely because of lack of food. If we can just involve ourselves and others in eliminating this kind of hunger, by setting up kitchens where expectant mothers, nursing mothers in poor areas can get food, children will not suffer from malnutrition. When the mother is well nourished, the child will be nourished. And if you do this for the first two years, the child will grow up to be okay. I feel, as a society we don’t understand the problem… I urge you all to abstain from food for two days. Feel the pain; feel what hunger is and then you will understand. And when you feel it, then you will definitely do something about it.”
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