In September we featured South Africa based Grassroot Soccer, an NGO that uses the power of soccer to educate, inspire and mobilize communities to stop the spread of HIV. Read last months feature here.
What inspired the establishment of your Akshaya Patra?
Looking out of a window one day in Mayapur, a village near Calcutta, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, saw a group of children fighting with street dogs over scraps of food. From this simple, yet heart-breaking incident, was born a determination that no child within the radius of ten miles from an Iskcon temple should go hungry.
In June 2000, The Akshaya Patra Foundation started the mid-day meal programme in Bangalore, Karnataka. The humble beginnings of the Foundation started with serving of the mid-day meals to 1500 children across five Government schools in Bangalore. The initial days of implementation were not smooth sailing for the organisationIt was then that MadhuPandit Dasa, Chairman of The Akshaya Patra Foundation, and T V Mohandas Pai, Chairman, Manipal Global Education Services, along with a group of committed leaders understood the intensity of the problem and decided to address it on a larger scale. Leveraging on local technology and innovation, and backed with their engineering and management expertise, they built the first mechanized kitchen in the year 2000 and started feeding 10, 000 children in Bangalore.
However, it’s much needed impetus came in 2001 when the Supreme Court of India in a landmark direction, launched the Mid-Day Meal Scheme (MDMS) under which all primary and upper primary children of India’s government schools shall be entitled to a cooked meal. The Akshaya Patra Foundation then became the first NGO-implementing partner of the Government’s MDM scheme thereby getting the right platform to reach out to a larger number and today, 14 years later, the Foundation feeds 1.4 million children across 10 states and 23 locations with a hot and more importantly an unlimited meal, on every school-working day.
What is special about Akshaya Patra?
Akshaya Patra is incomplete without an understanding of its automated kitchens, non-patented homegrown technology, its partnerships and the impact it has on local communities. Before Akshaya Patra, the largest available industrial kitchen was capable of churning out meals for a mere 10, 000 people. But today, each of its 21 centralised kitchens are engineered to optimize quality and minimize cost, time and labor can make meals for 2, 00, 000 children in less than 5 hours. It has been 14 years since this kitchen became operational, but ‘innovation’ still remains at the heart of all processes and functions.
The home-grown machinery is custom-made to suit a wide variety of needs across its locations. For example, large stainless steel cauldrons with easy-tilt mechanisms prepare 1,200 liters of lentils in two hours. In North, a specially designed roti-making machine cooks up 60,000 rotis in just an hour. The vegetable cutting machines are capable of chopping 40 kg of vegetables in different shapes and sizes in 60 seconds.
The kitchen follows a gravity-flow or top-down mechanism. Chopping and cleaning happens on the second floor, cooking on the first and packaging on the ground floor. Steam is used instead of fire for cooking thereby enabling acceleration of cooking processes and retention of nutrients. Everything is premeasured, pre-cut, pre-portioned, pre-processed, electronically controlled, and correctly timed. Each section has a skilled worker at hand.
The cooked-food is distributed through well-coordinated precision logistics using thermocol insulated vehicles (which enable heat retention) that quickly and safely deliver cooked food to schools according to a strict schedule, with optimal storage and minimal spillage.
How does your Akshaya Patra change lives?
According to a longitudinal independent study conducted from 2006-10 by India’s leading research firm, A.C Nielson, a steady progress has been witnessed on various parameters such as; increase/decrease in enrollment, drop-out statistics, and impact on attendance and pass percentage and nutritional status. On an average, student enrolment in Class I increased by 23.3% during the first year of program implementation in all the centers measured. The overall attendance in the schools measured increased by a total of 11.67%. Close to 85% of Heads of institutions/teachers across all locations reported that the proportion of students getting higher grades has increased, while the proportion of students getting lower grades has reduced.
These studies are regularly substantiated during qualitative interactions with children, teachers and parents by Akshaya Patra’s staff as well as corporates/trusts/foundations engaged with the program.
Why is your NGO important to the community you work in?
Akshaya Patra reaches out to 1.4 million children every day of school and is committed to its mission of reaching 5 million children by 2020. The organisation serves in Government and Government aided schools across India, mainly targeting children from economically disadvantaged households. With array of nutritious food on the menu, many children get attracted to school, enroll themselves and attend school regularly. For many children, who’d have to work for a square meal every day, the food comes as a boon not only because they can satiate their hunger but also because they get an opportunity to access education.
Many studies show that mid-day meals aids to better health among children leading to better cognitive, social and emotional development, among children. There is visible increase in enrolment and retention of children in school with increase in attendance.
What is Akshaya Patra’s vision for the world?
Our vision is to reach 5 million kids by 2020.