By Yusra Syed, IV Form
Akshaya Patra: Addressing Both Hunger and Education in India
India is the world’s largest democracy and the second most populous country in the world – with over 1.2 billion people. It is expected to be the most populated in the world by 2022. India is booming and, by many measures, is the world’s fastest growing big economy. Challenges of urban poverty in India are tied with the challenges of the country’s fast development. Cities are fostering poverty and hunger at a scale and extent unseen before. Nearly 70% of Indians live on less than $2 a day, with 61 million malnourished children – 1/3 of all the malnourished children in the world. This is causing too many children to choose food over education.
Hunger is a problem that can be solved. Diagnosing illnesses like AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis requires medication, time, patience, and funds. Hunger and malnutrition can be solved with healthy, balanced meals- food. “Hunger and malnutrition are in fact the number one risk to health worldwide — greater than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined” (World Food Program). Let us take a minute to compare the problem of hunger and malnutrition to the other conditions listed above. Seriously, take a minute and think about it. What are their differences?
Akshaya Patra is one organization that not only strives to address the problem of hunger in India, but also motivates students to attend school and learn so their futures are brighter.
Last summer I was fortunate to visit the Akshaya Patra operation in Bangalore, India. On my trip, I visited two kitchens. There were different rooms designated to various operations to prepare the food, and I found it fascinating to see the different preparation areas and the sequence that the meal preparation follows. Room #1 was for the preparation of vegetables- cleaning, peeling, and cutting. Room #2 was an area designated to clean dirty dishes. On my tours of these kitchens, I was most surprised that the quality of everything is important, even though food is prepared in large quantities.
Feeding hungry students in India is a substantially large operation, but Akshaya Patra takes time to make sure the food is clean, prepared well, and delicious! The typical meal served to students throughout the week is sambar (vegetable stew) and rice. The vegetables in the sambar and the spice mix change everyday to vary the flavors. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, special meals, such as bisebelebath and rice pulao, are served. The dishes seem simple, but the authentic flavors in the food are unique and often uncommon in U.S. meals.
I followed the Akshaya Patra delivery truck to Government Junior Primary School, a local school in Ksheta Maranahalli, Bangalore. I visited each classroom and was greeted by the smiles of hundreds of children of all different ages. Lunchtime arrived quickly and the students gathered in the common clear space in front of the school. Before eating, the students recited a Hindu prayer, and returned back to chatting with their friends. I put on a facemask to cover my mouth and nose, and I wore gloves to keep the germs on my hands away from the food. I served the students bisibelebath, which is a personal favorite.
Today Akshaya Patra feeds more than 1.4 million children in 10,770 schools in 10 states from 22 centralised and 2 decentralised kitchens. Looking to the future, they have a goal of feeding 5 million children by 2020.
Seeing these places really opened my eyes to what others in the world are experiencing and what I can do to make the problems better. I will think again before leaving a piece of chicken on my plate in the school dining hall. While plating my food, I will remember to take only what I can finish. These are small things we can do to make a greater impact around the globe. Akshaya Patra is putting smiles on children’s faces, nourishing them and their minds to put their best efforts in their schoolwork.
Yusra Syed is a IV day student from Shrewsbury, MA. She is a student ambassador for various non-profit organizations and is involved in promoting social entrepreneurship to solve the problems of child education and hunger in developing countries.In her spare time, Yusra enjoys playing soccer and experimenting in the kitchen.