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How Indian Americans can end child malnutrition in India

Dollar a day by 3.4 million Indian Americans has the potential to facilitate good midday meal to all the 104.5 million needy children.

By Srinivasa K. Rao, PhD

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During my visit to a small village in the Vizagararam district in India, I noticed a small card board box kept in the corner of a classroom. The box was labelled as “Akshaya Patra” (a vessel that can provide unlimited food). It contained a carrot and some green shrivelled vegetables.

When I enquired about it, the teacher explained that the money given for mid-day meal is insufficient to give a good nutritious meal. So he asks the children to bring at least one piece of vegetable to enrich the nutritive value of mid-day meal.

Education is the foundation for success. Without our dedicated teachers we would have reached nowhere. We owe much to them for the good education we received. A good teacher illumines within us till the day we die. We feel that we should recognize our good teachers and pay our tribute to them. By the time the realization dawns upon us, many teachers are no more. So I decided to recognize those who are actively teaching and honour them in the memory of my teachers.

But how do we find them? I discussed this idea with a very active and well known teacher. She said there are many awards and recognitions to honour teachers, but many of them are not awarded to genuine teachers. Therefore, we set out to locate genuinely good teachers. So we went around and visited a few schools to meet some of them and that is how I found the teacher in a village in Vizangaram.

The Government of India implements the Mid-Day Meal Program for 104.5 million children in schools from grade 1 to 8 in over 1.15 million institutions in India. Expenditure for this program is $1.3 billion. Approximately 13.88 million metric tons of grains are allocated for this program (Source: data from the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, Ministry of Human Resource Development, Department of School Education and Literacy, Government of India website).

When you see the huge numbers you say, “Wow!” Then, what is the role of the cardboard box in the corner of the classroom with two pieces of vegetables? However, when you calculate the amount spent on each child, you would be appalled and say, “My goodness!”

The Government of India spends approximately $0.06 (Rs. 4.00) per day per child. In terms of calories it can get less than 250 calories per day per child. The recommended calories are 450 for a child in primary school and 700 in secondary school.  The money allocated is not sufficient to meet the calorific value required, leave alone giving nutritional and tasty food.

The task of providing nutritional and tasty food is a gigantic problem financially and operationally. Yet, India is a land of wonders of gigantic proportions! For Mid-Day Meal Program problem, the Akshaya Patra foundation found a solution and has been implementing it since 2000.

The Foundation is the world’s largest NGO serving wholesome mid-day meals to 1,689,871 children in 26 locations across 11 states in India. Akshya Patra is able to reach only 1.6% of the total children. Tasty and wholesome meals are served to students to address malnutrition and classroom hunger.

Akshaya Patra has all the necessary knowledge, infrastructure, management and ability to reach the government schools in India. The gap between what government provides and what is needed to provide a good, wholesome meal is resulting in a budget deficit of $17 Million for Akshaya Patra. Unless, the Foundation is able to reach out to all the children in the government schools of India, problem of child malnutrition cannot be resolved. .

Though giving a wholesome, tasty mid-day meal appears to be a multi-faceted problem, if we have the will, it can be done.  Dollar a day donation by 3.4 million Indians in the United States has the potential to facilitate good midday meal to all the 104.5 million needy children every day.

This can be achieved through direct sponsoring or by sponsoring mid-day meals while we eat and pay the bill at any of the thousands of Indian restaurants or make sponsoring mid-day meal a part of our prayers and offerings in hundreds of religious institutions where thousands visit every week.

The action by Indian Americans can act as a catalyst and we can provide good meals to all the needy children.  Here is an opportunity to bring India’s children to a well-nourished state, in one generation.  I am writing this not as an arm chair philanthropist, but I am writing after pledging sponsorship of two mid-day meals for every kilo of Quinoa sold by my institution, Dr. Quinoa.

Dr. Srinivasa K. Rao is a biotechnology, life sciences, biomedical scientist who popularizes farming and processing quinoa in India. He launched a brand, “Dr. Quinoa,” in the Indian market to make the grain more affordable. He can be reached at srao@drquinoa.com.



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