Thursday, October 10, 2013

Akshaya Patra Foundation takes a giant leap, aims to reduce carbon emission

NITICENTRALThe Akshaya Patra Foundation one of the largest NGO initiated in 2000, has come a long way and is well known for its midday meal program serving thousands of school children every day. Recently, it has added another feather in its cap, by adopting eco-friendly cooking medium. The NGO has installed biomass smokeless oorja stoves in its kitchens, initiating reduction in carbon emissions. These stoves do not emit smoke and helps in saving at least 50 per cent of cooking fuel.
The role of the foundation in implementing its midday meal program is much more than just providing school lunch to the children, in fact, through it, they aim to achieve the two most critical Millennium Development Goals, i.e., elimination of hunger and universalize of primary education. With the aim to reduce school drop outs due to poor financial condition, the NGO serves over 1,347,513 children in 19 locations across nine States. It provides them with freshly cooked meal on all school days. Currently, their program is being implemented in over 10,050 schools of the country, with plans to increase that number to hundreds more, a Press statement said.
The Akshaya Patra Foundation runs its operations through two kitchen models, i.e., centralized kitchens and de-centralised kitchens. These kitchens are suitable of urban and semi-urban locations and are mechanized and apply some of the most innovative technology. Centralized kitchens have the capacity to cook meals for thousands of children within just few hours. The technology and process used in centralized kitchens have been a topic of research and study in the course curriculum of many renowned universities like Harvard. On the other hand, the de-centralized kitchen set-up is used in areas that are not easily accessible. These facilities employ women of that particular area for the cooking process. Ample training and guidance is imparted to the employees, so that the same hygiene and cleanliness is maintained as in the centralized kitchen facility.
One of the interesting facts about these kitchens is that they have a capacity to cook between 50 000 to 150000 meals every day thus achieving economies of scale. Cooking takes place in mechanized  steam heated cauldrons custom-built to reduce the cook to consume time. Therefore, to reduce the school drop outs and child labor  the program also helps in the universalization of primary education.
Freshly cooked food is packed in stainless steel containers and transported to various schools in custom built vehicles (about 10 to 15 schools per vehicle). Security personnel escort each vehicle to ensure safe delivery of meals. There are two types of menus prepared throughout the country: North Indian and South Indian. The North Indian menu consists of three items: roti, sabji and rice while the South Indian menu also consists of rice, sambar and curd.
According to Someshekara D, Supervisor, Mangalore kitchen, “No matter what happens, we have to deliver food to all schools on time”. On asking how does he manage to fulfill the demand, he said that though it is no easy task serving freshly cooked food to more than 17,000 plus children everyday, but he tries his level best to meet it by following high standards through constant supervision and strict adherence to a timeline. His work gives him a great sense of satisfaction. “Many people in our Mangalore kitchen, especially the ladies, are here simply because we serve children. They’re not here out of necessity. We all work very hard. Everyone has to contribute and help everyone else out. That’s very important,” he says with pride.
Moving ahead, we stumble across Jatin Kumar, a cook, who said, “I joined Akshaya Patra last year as a cook and was amazed to see the quantity of food that is cooked everyday. This is my first job and it has given me an opportunity to not only support the education of these children but also my two small sisters, who will not have to give up education like me. I am pleased to be a part of this splendid mission….lives are truly changed for good.”
On gaining the popularity and working with various Governments, the chairman and executive trustee, Madhu Pandit Dasa said, “Our mid-day meal programs have helped in ensuring that the children attend school and continue their education. By using more energy efficient kitchens, we can save money and stretch our resources further to help reach more children. As an NGO, we depend heavily on fund raising and every penny makes a difference. Through the biomass smokeless stove, we also do our bit for the environment and the country by reducing emissions.”
The Akshaya Patra Foundation’s mission is to reach out to 5 million children by 2020. The NGO is a public, charitable, secular Trust, registered in Bangalore. The Board of Trustees comprise missionaries of ISKCON Bangalore, corporate professionals, and entrepreneurs. In fact, the foundation has received Gold Award at LACP 2011/12 Vision Awards and has been awarded many times recently.

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