Distinguished Luminaries Visit Akshaya Patra, Vrindavan
Early morning each day, scores of Akshaya Patra employees converge at the geodesic marvel of the Vrindavan centralized kitchen, in the north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, to begin preparations for the day's activities. Their task is no easy one. Tons of vegetables and rice, not to mention, tens of thousands of rotis must be prepared within a few short hours and sent to the hundreds of schools around the area where Akshaya Patra provides meals. All this needs to take place before the 1 o'clock lunch break, when more than 158,000 children will eagerly file out of their classes for delicious, freshly cooked food rich in nutrients.
It was to view exactly this process, and witness first hand the logistics involved in such a complex achievement that the Governor of Uttar Pradesh, B. L. Joshi and the Chief Minister of Haryana, Bhupinder Singh Hooda, recently visited the Vrindavan kitchen. From the innovative machine that makes 40,000 rotis per hour to the specialized oil sprinklers that coat each roti with oil, the Vrindavan kitchen today is one of the most advanced of Akshaya Patra's facilities, combining picturesque aesthetics with modern functionality.
"Beautiful structure," commented Mr. Joshi upon his visit. After the success of its pilot program in Karnataka, Akshaya Patra expanded its work to Uttar Pradesh in August 2003, where it began serving meals to school-going children in the holy city of Vrindavan. In stark contrast to the region's rich culture and significance in Indian spirituality as the birthplace of Lord Krishna, Uttar Pradesh today faces many developmental challenges. According to the World Bank, it is one of six states in India where at least one in two children are underweight, and one of four states which account for nearly 43% of all underweight children in the country. 1 The government's mid-day meal program which Akshaya Patra implements, therefore, has positively impacted many of the region's underprivileged. For a great number of these children, one meal has made all the difference.
"I used to work as a rickshaw puller with my father to earn money to buy food. Now I go to school and eat hot food everyday," says Sukhiram, who attends a school in Mathura District where Akshaya Patra provides mid-day meals. He says that soon, both his younger sisters will also join school and enjoy hot food everyday.
These mid-day meals have become an incentive that attracts children back to school, where they can learn better and improve their chances at life through an education. This two pronged strategy aims to tackle both malnutrition as well as increasing drop-out rates among students.
"Akshaya Patra is doing very well, saving the children of [the] area by providing good food," commented Bhupinder Singh Hooda, Chief Minister of Haryana, after viewing the work being done at Vrindavan.
Akshaya Patra aims to reach out to more children in the coming future. In fact, the Foundation's mission is to increase the number of children we impact to 5 million by 2020.