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India School Lunch Program - Akshaya Patra
In thousands of schools across India, teachers will tell you to add one more “R” to reading, ’riting, and ’rithmetic. Recess, they’ll tell you, may be the most critical part of a student’s school day.
DINESH SHARMA: In this school, only about five children in all are able to bring a lunch from home.
BIRAJ PATNAIK: India finds itself acutely embarrassed. Its ambitions of being a global power are very poorly reflected in social sector indicators, and there is acute embarrassment that the second-fastest growing economy in the world has almost half of its children malnourished.
PATNAIK: On the grounds that there was no infrastructure, that teachers would get overburdened, that India just didn’t have the financial resources to start a program of this nature. But the Supreme Court reaffirmed that fiscal constraints can never be allowed to come in the way of children’s right to food, and if the government had to tighten their belt, that had to happen elsewhere.
CHANCHALAPATI DAS: The challenge in our country is how to deliver it and deliver it up to the last mile. That is the challenge. Because a large country with 120 million children in hundreds of thousands of schools that delivery is a genuine challenge.
DAS: He saw there was leftover of all the food, and the plates strewn there, and there was street children, poor children from the village and some stray dogs fighting for the leftover of the food. When Prabhupada saw that there were tears in his eyes, and he called some of his disciples and said, “Just look at this. You can’t allow this to happen.”
DAS: Passion alone is not enough. You need to have organization. You need to have organizational capabilities. You need to have management capabilities. Akshaya Patra has been a very unique marriage of dedicated missionaries and professionals coming with a heart.
DAS: My parents probably would have a house—we come from a middle-class family—would have a house when they were probably 50 years of age. In today’s India, by the time someone—and someone working in a software company in India—by the time they are 28 or 30 years old they already have a house, they have a car, and then what? They still have a lot of disposable income, and they are genuinely looking for opportunities where their money can be used well for social development.
GOVINDA DAS: Every day we cook about 150,000 meals in three hours time, and the ingredients that we use, something like 7000 kilograms of wheat flour every day, and from that we make about 300,000 chapatis—flatbreads—
MADHU KILANI: They belong to very poor families. They belong to labor-class families, and their parents are also not very much literate. And some of the students have, their economic condition is so poor that at night also they are not able to eat food in their home, so they depend, many of their strengths depend on their midday meal.
KILANI: Yes, for the whole day nutrition.
PATNAIK: Jharkhand, for instance, is a state where I often visited, and I despair at the quality of the meals that are being served there. Even in states where the meals work well, in the more inaccessible and remote parts of the state you have meals which are not comparable at all in quality to what children in the rest of the country are getting.
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