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Akshaya Patra Opens Kitchen In Nathdwara, Rajasthan: 75,000 Children To Be Served

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10 year-old Rakesh lives in abject poverty in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India. His father, a snake charmer by profession, earns a meager US $15 per day with which he must feed and clothe his large family including his wife, 5 children and himself. Snake charmers in India typically visit towns and villages on market days and during festivals to earn money for their family’s daily subsistence. However, owing to the Wildlife Protection Act, which enforces strict safeguards over snakes, the family’s earning has become threatened and Rakesh’s father has taken to playing music at weddings and celebrations.  This fetches him a very sporadic and uncertain income; a threat to the family’s wellbeing.  Against this background, the meal that The Akshaya Patra Foundation provides to Rakesh at school is a life line for the family. Studying in grade 5 in Government Higher Primary School in Rajasthan, he is able eat a fresh, nutritious, unlimited meal in school and take a little food home as well.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, a public-private partnership and one of the world’s largest NGO -run mid-day meal programs, serves over  156,000 children in Rajasthan. Recently, the organization has reopened a 32,000 square foot, technology intensive, centralized kitchen in Nathdwara, Rajasthan which has the capacity to serve 75,000 school children.  At present around 17,000 students are being served mid-day meals from this kitchen. Rajasthan is also home to two additional Akshaya Patra kitchens located in Jaipur and Baran that use two different kitchen operational models: centralized and decentralized.

Akshaya Patra’s centralized kitchens are the hallmark of the foundations mid day meal program that aims to simultaneously address the twin challenges of childhood hunger and malnutrition, and to promote education for underserved children in India. Jaipur is home to one of the centralized kitchens that leverage innovative technology to increase efficiency, lower costs and maintain high standards of quality to deliver freshly prepared mid- day meals.  

Some key features of the Jaipur centralized kitchen include steam as a cost-effective and clean cooking medium that helps accelerate the cooking process and retain nutrients and two innovative chapatti making machines that each prepares 40,000 chapattis in an hour.  Most processes—from cutting vegetables, preparing bread, to loading containers—are mechanized, which increases speed, decreases overhead, and protects against contamination.

The decentralized kitchen model is for rural areas where transportation costs are high due to road conditions and the large distance separating villages. In Baran, small kitchens are built next to the schools and local women are employed to prepare the meals for the children. The women are paid a salary and trained in cooking methods, so the meals are balanced for nutritional content and are prepared hygienically.

Madhu Sridhar, President and CEO of Akshaya Patra USA remarked, "What makes us happy is when we hear from teachers that children are performing better in school because of proper nutrition. The fact that more children start enrolling in Rajasthan schools is encouraging. For many children this is their only complete meal of the day and serves as an incentive for them to attend classes."

In a short time, the Akshaya Patra Foundation has grown to become one of the largest, and certainly most innovative, school lunch programs in the world. Currently, the organization serves over 1.3 million children, in more than 9,000 schools, throughout 10 states of India at a cost of $15 to feed a child for an entire year. Akshaya Patra is a great example of what can be accomplished when the public sector, private sector and the civic society collaborate-- a cost effective, scalable solution with high quality service delivery. Akshaya Patra’s next milestone is to serve 5 million children daily by 2020.

For more information, or to learn more about other locations served in India, please visit www.foodforeducation.org.

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