Akshaya Patra: Feeding Millions of Malnourished Children

By Manipadma Jena

Surrounded by lush green wheat and yellow flowering mustard fields at Ekdanta primary school, fifty-seven children in two combined classes are fidgety—impatient for the school-served midday meal.

The hot meals are served by the Akshaya Patra Foundation, the largest non- profit in India, in partnership with the government’s school meal program that covers 120 million children in 1.26 million schools across the country.

A show of hands in Ekdanta indicates that one quarter of students has not had breakfast before school.

Eight-year-old Nagina Singh has not had even the glass of buffalo milk that other children have had before school. “Both my parents left for daily wage labour early morning and there was nothing at home to eat,” she told IPS.

“This is not uncommon among the eighty-five marginal and share-farmer families populating Ekdanta,” says head-teacher Chandrasen Singh.

The small dusty village is 170 kilometers from Delhi in the northern Indian Mathura district of Uttar Pradesh State.

Akshaya Patra, which in Hindu mythology means an inexhaustible food vessel, feeds 1.2 million school children every day from 18 centralized kitchens—15 automated, across eight states. Six of the kitchens are certified under the International Food Safety Management System standard ISO 22000:2005.

Nagina is one among the 169,000 children across 1,516 schools that are fed by Akshaya Patra’s Vrindavana unit—ten kilometers from the Hindu pilgrimage town of Mathura. Karnataka’s Hubli kitchen—420 kilometres from Akshaya Patra’s Bangalore headquarters—is their largest, feeding 176,000 children in 779 schools.

Intelligently engineered automated kitchens have been Akshaya Patra’s cornerstones for achieving remarkable scale and efficiency in delivering school meals. Using a hub-and-spoke model, mass quantities of food cooked in these automated kitchens are distributed in smaller amounts to individual schools in the surrounding areas.

Malnutrition, classroom hunger and school dropouts continue to be grave concerns in India, making Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) one and two—to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, and to achieve universal primary education—difficult to achieve by the 2015 deadline.

The global hunger index published by the International Food Policy Research Institute ranks India – with 42 percent of the world’s underweight children aged under five—sixty-seven among eighty-four countries in 2010.

In 2001 the Supreme Court of India directed governments to provide cooked meals in all state-run primary schools to address these concerns.

In 2000, Akshaya Patra was already feeding 1,500 school children in Bangalore. “Within a month of starting we received requests to feed 100,000 children,” 37-year-old Narasimha Dasa, a mechanical engineer by training, told IPS.

Read the entire IPS article, here.

This article was also cross-posted on Vrindavan Today.


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14 Responses to Akshaya Patra: Feeding Millions of Malnourished Children

  1. Great project! Are they affiliated with any religious group?

    I admire also that machine for making chapatis!

    • This is the group that left Iskcon, taking a big temple with them—Iskcon Bangalore. They espouse a ritvik philosophy.

      • Dear Swami Maharaja, Obeisances,

        Could you give an explanation of ritvik philosophy. Does it mean giving intiation on behalf of a living acarya, or a departed acarya, or both?

        Isn’t that sort of what Christianity is practicing?

        In your opinion, can someone read a book by Srila Prabhupada, or see him on DVD, hear him on MP3, and begin to worship him, pray to him for strength and inner guidance, and devote one’s activities to Srila Prabhupada hoping to please him – and thereby advance or be benedicted with advancement in Krishna Consciouness?

        What is the theoretical vaishana position on this? What is your feeling on this, in this day and age, wherein one can have so much exposure to a departed self-realized soul, and thereby imbibe so much of his vibration?

        Hare Krishna! Ishan

        • Does it mean giving intiation on behalf of a living acarya, or a departed acarya, or both?

          It pertains to a living acarya, but others have tried to make it pertain to Prabhupada after his passing. This is a philosophically deviant idea that files in the face of the concept of guru parampara. Videos, etc. are not a substitute for the acarya’s will and blessing.

          • Could someone not pray to Srila Prabhupada today, even though he never met him in person?

            Can I not pray to Lord Caitanya, Nityananda, although never having met Them in person?

            Can I not pray to Srila Rupa Goswami, although I never met him?

            I am not in a challenging mood. I am begging for this kind of information.

            Your worthless servant,

            Ishan

          • Also, I remember that man in Mahbharata who worshipped Drona even though the acharya had never accepted him as a disciple or even seen him. But the man became a great archer. So that would seem to be shastric evidence for being able to recieve benefit from worshipping a spiritual personality without having been accpted by that personality in a formal ceremony. The man simply made a deity of Drona, I beleive, and did the puja, got the benefit. How do we fit this into our conversation?

            Ishan

          • It’s been said that the successful results of service rendered indicate the mercy of guru. So how can one view the significant success of a service being rendered under a siddhantic misconception?

          • Ishan-ji, the story of self-proclaimed Drona’s disciple is more complex than you make it to be, and I see your conclusion as very problematic.
            Ekalavya first approached Drona in person asking for acceptance, but was rejected by him due to Ekalavya’s low caste (he was born of a Nishada woman and a kshatriya man). Ekalavya decided on his own to become Drona’s secret disciple and he indeed became a great archer in due course of time. But when Drona found out about it, he asked for Ekalavya’s thumb as his guru-daksina, thus making him just an ordinary good archer and no match to Arjuna. The moral of this story is clear: you can’t make yourself a disciple of anyone without first obtaining their explicit permission. This system was followed even by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, who had to go through a lot of trouble to become accepted by his guru.

          • I didn’t realize my question was posted because an error message came up. Sorry, I would have added the following point. It has been presented to me that such success involving distribution of mercy in the form of prasad is valid evidence for the purvacarya’s mercy being present–that if his mercy was not present, there could not be success.

            Seems to me that could very well be true, but that it doesn’t at all validate the idea that one can get one’s main inspiration from him at the expense of diksa from a living guru.

          • Ishan,

            You can pray to any of the personalities you listed but how would they respond to you? Through guru-parampara as Krishna himself explains in the Gita.

            In addition, a living acarya can refine our conception and approach to those personalities so our prayers are grounded in sastra.

            I would agrue that we should pray to them for seva and nista to a living Vaisnava.

        • KB: Who are you referring to when you say “what a loser”. What devotee would say such a demeaning thing to another devotee (or anyone for that matter)? I would caution you to be very careful when throwing around offensive remarks like that.

  2. That is a very wonderful and much needed service… jaya!

  3. What can one say? To think that in this day age that here could be hungry children, while countries like America are spending hundreds of billions of dollars on wars that in some cases are completely meaningless war-profiteering and nothing more.

    This material world is not a nice place. We live such a priviledged life in the west. It is like a higher planet compare to what goes on in the third world. Child labor, child sexual slavery, congenital cancer because of polution caused by multinational multi-billion dollar oil industries.

    If we really care, we want to put more than food on these children’s plates. We want to give them a ticket out of this material world, so that they do not have to experience such things ever again.

    But we can’t give them what we don’t have. So if we care, we will strive to grow in our Krishna Consciousness.

    Hare Krishna! Ishan das

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