Feeding India, Educating India: Akshaya Patra’s War Against Classroom Hunger

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Dhanush B lost both his parents very early on in his childhood. He and his younger brother were raised by their uncle and aunt. For him, going to school and getting educated was the only way he could repay them and make his mark in life. And the fact that the school provided hot food was a big incentive that made him keep coming back. Dhanush says the mid-day meal he ate with his friends was some of the best food he has ever had.

“The meals were an energy booster for us. They helped us focus on our studies. It was one of the best foods I had ever tasted,” gushes Dhanush as gets nostalgic about his formative years.

Dhanush (R) at one of his project sites


An architect by profession today, Dhanush did not have it easy; his struggles began at the very basics. He remembers how school was an escape from his harsh reality. He knew very early on that he wanted to be an architect – he wanted to build dreams. Having seen first-hand the impact of a hot, nutritious meal on a child’s life, he aspires to construct community kitchens to help others like him and credit it to The Akshaya Patra Foundation (TAPF) which, he says, laid the foundation for his success.

Dhanush is just one of the thousands of students that have benefitted from the philanthropic efforts of TAPF. Going beyond feeding these children as part of the government-aided school meal programme, the Bengaluru-based NGO also roped in corporates to ensure the children got monetary support for further education.

Dhanush received a scholarship that helped him tide over his PUC level education and the five years of his architecture course.

Like Dhanush, countless other children were given the wings to dream by TAPF. 

As the implementing partner of the Government of India’s flagship school feeding programme – the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme – the NGO today reaches out to over 1.8 million children in 57 locations across 13 States and one Union Territory every day, providing them with a freshly-cooked meal as an incentive to come to school. In 2019, they served their three billionth cumulative meal.

Before the pandemic struck, Ravi lived in a small one-room tenement in the shadows of a Bangalore locality. Ravi’s fondest memory of going to school is the hot plate of sambhar and rice served as the mid-day meal. Sometimes, that was the only meal he got to eat in a day. The promise of a full stomach may have lured the visually-impaired boy to school, but it was his determination that kept him going back. He never let his disability dim his prospects or mar his hopes in any way. He remembers desperately running from pillar to post for loans to complete his schooling. That is before The Akshaya Patra Foundation (TAPF), once again, came to his rescue.

A Class 10 student from the Zilla Parishad High School in TK Pur, Telangana, Afreen Begum has a unique and specific ambition. She aspires to become an RTO officer. According to her, people do not have civic sense and, she intends to instil that in everyone.

Afreen is one of the recipients of the government scholarship aided by the National Endeavour for Student Transformation (NEST) initiative by The Akshaya Patra Foundation.

A State-level kabaddi player, she is focused and resolute to make a name for herself and make her family proud of her. She has an elder brother who is into buffalo farming, an elder sister, and two younger sisters. She wants to become an inspiration for them.

She regrets being unable to go to the national event after being selected due to unforeseen personal reasons. She is proud to have won the scholarship. She says, “This means the hard work I have put in for my studies despite playing State-level volleyball has borne fruit and is recognised. I can do multiple things simultaneously and do them well. This will help me in future. Akshaya Patra has helped me with the scholarship. In our school, there are, so far, seven students who have received the scholarship. I am sure many more will get it.”

Recent data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 shows that 57.2 per cent of women between 15 and 49 years of age are anaemic in India. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) Food Fortification Resource Centre (FFRC) has reported that over 70 per cent of India’s population consumes less than half the daily recommended dietary allowance of micronutrients per day. These deficiencies are prevalent not only in women and children from rural areas but also affects population groups in urban India too.

“The Akshaya Patra Foundation believes in the power of one hot meal. Over the years, the Foundation has personally witnessed the transformation it has brought about in the lives of many children, their families and the community as a whole,” says Sundeep Talwar, Chief Marketing Officer, The Akshaya Patra Foundation. 

Akshaya Patra was started 21 years ago with 1,500 children being fed in five schools of Bengaluru, Karnataka. 

Explaining the initiative, Talwar elaborates on successfully harnessing the might of the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. 

“Little did we know at that point that this humble endeavour would grow from strength to strength to become a food-for-education revolution. We have brought the government, corporates, philanthropic organisations and individuals together to address a social cause on a massive scale. While the government provides subsidies in material and conversion costs, we bear the expenditure of setting up kitchens, investment in manpower, distribution, food safety and hygiene, automation, etc. Each meal costs us a specific sum, of which, the government contributes a part while the remaining is raised by us through fundraising from individuals and corporate donors. The availability of these funds helps us provide children with a multi-item menu cooked in safe and hygienic state-of-the-art kitchen facilities,” he says.

And what a revolution it was! As the implementing partner of the Government of India’s flagship school feeding programme – the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme – the NGO today reaches out to over 1.8 million children in 57 locations across 13 States and one Union Territory every day, providing them with a freshly-cooked meal as an incentive to come to school. In 2019, they served their three billionth cumulative meal.

Akshaya Patra and the UN-WFP aim to bridge operational and execution gaps in food safety and hygiene projects in India. Closing these gaps will improve the overall effectiveness of the initiatives and ensure a positive impact on the nutritional status of school children.

Addressing Malnutrition at the Grassroots

Recent data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS)-5 shows that 57.2 per cent of women between 15 and 49 years of age are anaemic in India. Food Safety and Standards Authority of India’s (FSSAI) Food Fortification Resource Centre (FFRC) has reported that over 70 per cent of India’s population consumes less than half the daily recommended dietary allowance of micronutrients per day. These deficiencies are prevalent not only in women and children from rural areas but also affects population groups in urban India too. 

Given the scope of the problem, Akshaya Patra recently tied up with the United Nations – World Food Programme (UN-WFP) to improve the reach and effectiveness of the Mid-Day Meal Scheme.

“As the implementing partner of the largest run mid-day meal programme by any not-for-profit in the world, we have a unique perspective to share with the world as far as school feeding programmes are concerned. However, we also have a lot to learn from the rest of the world on disruptive technologies that can help address the problem even better,” says Sundeep Talwar.

Akshaya Patra and the UN-WFP aim to bridge operational and execution gaps in food safety and hygiene projects in India. Closing these gaps will improve the overall effectiveness of the initiatives and ensure a positive impact on the nutritional status of school children.

The Foundation is collaborating with the Centre for Society and Policy (CSP) Indian Institute of Science (IISc) to form the Akshaya Patra Research Lab. They will conduct comprehensive studies in child food security, community participation for social welfare, elimination of malnutrition, policy development and advocacy for battling hunger. One of the key goals of the research lab is to assess the impact of the meals served to school children.

Contributed by:
The Akshaya Patra Foundation