The Akshaya Patra Foundation started its mid-day meal programme in June, 2000 by providing free mid-day meals to 1,500 children in 5 Government schools in Bengaluru, Karnataka. Over the past 16 years, the constant support from the Government of India, various State Governments and associated organisations has enabled the programme to grow by leaps and bounds. Today, this organisation feeds free mid-day meals to 1.6 million schoolchildren in 13,529 Government schools and Government-aided schools. The organisation currently has its presence in 27 locations across 11 states in India. This not-for-profit organisation has been conferred as the world’s largest NGO-run mid-day meal programme (source).
Hunger and Illiteracy are India’s two major challenges. There is a serious malnutrition case in India with the World Bank’ estimate of 60 million children in India, being underweight. Hunger is an obstacle to child’s health, education and survival.
A recent UNICEF report states that more than 80 million children drop out before completing 8 years of age and over 8 million children are out of school.
Akshaya Patra is focused on eliminating classroom hunger and attracting more children (enrolment) to schools and ensure to keep them in school (reduce dropout rate) by feeding a filling, nutritious mid-day meal, every school day. This is in partnership with the Government of India and all the various State Governments.
The organisation, by means of this programme, aims at achieving the two most critical UN Sustainable Development Goals: Zero Hunger and Quality Education.
The not-for-profit organisation works towards its vision of ‘No child in India shall be deprived of education because of hunger.' In order to achieve this vision, Akshaya Patra provides 'unlimited food for education.' This wholesome meal is often the only source of nutrition for the whole day for many of the organisation's beneficiaries. Thus, to ensure that every child is benefited through this one meal, Akshaya Patra prepares nutritious meals that suit the local palate as well. For example, the kitchens in the northern parts of India serve rotis while the kitchens in the southern areas serve rice.
The Foundation runs its operations through two kitchen models: Centralised and Decentralised.
Centralised kitchens are large factory-like kitchen units that have the capacity to typically cook up to 100,000 meals a day. These kitchens serve a set of schools located around the units. These units are semi-automated thus ensuring hygiene during the cooking process. The technology and process used in centralised kitchens have been a topic of research and study in the course curriculum of many renowned universities such as Harvard (Study).
Locations where factors like unfavourable geographical terrain and improper road connectivity don’t support the construction of large infrastructure, decentralised kitchen are set up. Decentralised kitchen units are run by women Self-Help Groups (SHGs) under the guidance and supervision of Akshaya Patra’s kitchen process and operations module.
What do the surveys say?
According to surveys conducted by various reputed organisations in the child health segment, 40 per cent of our country’s population is below 18 years of age. Out of this, less than 50 per cent goes to school. Economic and social circumstances force these children to forego education and engage in doing menial jobs in order to earn a single meal a day. Research also shows that universal education has lagged because of the prevailing hunger and malnutrition state. These two factors reduce school enrolments, hamper performance levels and increase school drop-out rates, especially among girls.
Hunger, especially classroom hunger impairs a child’s performance even if they do attend school. At this juncture, apart from the role of NGOs in child education, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme acts as a huge incentive in bringing these children to school. It prevents them from working and instead encourages them to study and get educated. In this way, the programme also helps in the universalization of primary education.
When it comes to quality, there is no compromise
Hygiene and cleanliness are of utmost importance in each of the Akshaya Patra kitchens, be it centralised or decentralised. Read about our kitchen for more information on quality control. The work of this not-for-profit entity has been recognised as a member of the National Steering-cum-Monitoring Committee (NSMC) for the mid-day meal programme.
The success of this Public-Private Partnership is being appreciated widely and is also being considered as a model partnership worthy of adoption. The Foundation has also received global recognition by being ranked the 23rd NGO among the Top 100 NGOs of the world, by the Global Journal.