|THE MEAL STUDENTS LOVE Within few months of starting the Mid-day meal programme by Akshaya Patra, children and teachers were found to become more enthusiastic both inside and outside the classroom.
|“A headmaster wrote to us - ‘Our school children are also poor. Provide food to them’. In 3 months there were piles of letters.”
Vice-Chairman, Akshaya Patra
Name: Akshaya Patra
Domain: Mid-day meal to school children in India
Date of incorporation: June 2000
No of beneficiaries: 1.3 million
Infrastructure: Headquartered in Bangalore, AP reaches out to 8 States, through 18 kitchens.
Investment: For each meal of Rs.6.50, Rs.4.50 is given by the government. Rest is taken care of by AP which spends about Rs.25 lakh per day over and above the government’s contribution.
Biggest achievements: Best Bhagidari Award, Indian Express Innovation Award, Best Innovative Project by India Urban Space Foundation, etc.
Sunday is not a holiday for 12-year old Roja. She goes to a few houses to help her mother, a domestic worker. On school days, Roja and her three siblings attend school on an empty stomach because their mother leaves home by 6 a.m, everyday. “I have got used to skipping breakfast but I love the afternoon food served in the school, especially the rasam and rice,” says Roja. She wants to score high marks in English as she believes that it is important to be fluent in that language.
Roja is one of those students at Varthur Government School, on the outskirts of Bangalore who want to make it big in life through a good education but are affected by paucity of monetary resources. Like Roja, for millions of students in the country, Akshaya Patra is an organisation which is doing its bit to help them by providing a mid-day meal. Through this, they are able to contribute towards India’s need for compulsory primary education, and many students are willing to attend classes because of the meals on offer.
Students start showing up
Akshaya Patra’s story started in June 2000 when they began feeding 1500 students in and around Bangalore. Within three months, the organisation received optimistic feedback; it was found that most children who had enrolled but were not attending the classes, had started showing up at school. The fainting ratio due to energy deficiency of children during morning assembly, had gone down. Children seemed to be more enthusiastic both inside and outside the classroom.
“We received a school headmaster’s letter where our food did not go. It said, ‘We often see your vehicles carrying food passing in front of our school. Our school children also belong to poor families. So provide food to them.’ In three months there was a pile of such letters. This was a shocking feedback in the IT capital of the country,” says Chanchalapathi Dasa, Vice-Chairman, Akshaya Patra Foundation. Today the organisation is reaching out to around 13 lakh students in 8000 schools in different parts of the country.
Cooking for 1.5 lakhs in one go
One of the fascinating features is the centralised kitchens. Eighteen in number, these have the capacity to cook between 40,000 to 1.5 lakh meals at a time. They were designed internally by the organisation’s operation team, which consists of mostly engineers. The menu for North India comprises roti, sabji and rice while that for South India it’s rice, sambhar and curd. An exclusive C2C (Cooking-to-consumption time) of six hours is regulated. The food grain supply comes from Food Corporation of India.
To avoid mishaps like food poisoning, Akshaya Patra has taken measures like getting an ISO certification for kitchens, regular training to staff on food safety issues and architecturally hard-wired infrastructure. Many food safety professionals have also been hired. “Once there was a case when 30 students were admitted to hospital due to a bad stomach after eating the food. But it was found that it had happened due to the water provided in the school and not the food,” says Dasa.
Entrepreneurs always wait for opportunities. This is evident from the way Dasa, an ME grad from IISC, AP’s Chairman Madhu Pandit Dasa who is an MTech from IIT-Bombay and TV Mohandas Pai, Infosys BoD member, were inspired to start Akshaya Patra.
With this thought, it has been continuously reaching out to college students to introduce them to their programme. Presentations have been made in big institutes like the IIMs and Mudra, giving exposure to the concept of entrepreneurship. “There is a lot of social awareness among the youth today. Government has its strengths but there are weaknesses also, so we have to step in,” says Dasa.
The cost of one meal is Rs. 6.50 to which the government contributes Rs. 4.50. The gap of Rs. 2 is filled by fund raising activities. Some of them are carried out in temples and through donations. Internet fund-raising and tele-calling is also done. There’s a marketing department headed by an MBA which takes care of the gap. “AP spends about Rs. 25 lakh per working day over and above the govt’s contribution. Fund raising programmes help here, though we’re trying to build efficiency and cost-effectiveness,” says Dasa.
|MID-DAY MEAL: A cowherd’s need turned into an inspiration
|A Mid-day meal is a free-of-cost lunch given to school children either by government or an NGO. It happened in 1960 when one day K Kamaraj, the then Tamil Nadu CM, asked a cowherd, “Why are you grazing these cows? Why didn’t you go to school?” He retorted, “If I go to school, will you give me food to eat? I can learn only if I eat.” It’s his statement that laid the founding stone of this reduce-hunger-encourage-education programme that’s giving hope to millions of children in the country today. According to HRD Ministry, 11.04 crore children were covered under the government’s MDM scheme during 2009-10. Simultaneously, a UNICEF report says 1 in 3 of the world’s malnourished children lives in India.