A public-private venture, the Akshaya Patra Foundation’s mid-day meal programme is providing food to under-privileged students and employment to women 

It may be just one hot meal for a child but it has a huge cumulative impact in building a strong, educated, egalitarian India. If mid-day meals protect children from ‘classroom hunger’ — a great deterrent to education — it also provides employment to a large number local people, particularly women who make a substantial contribution in the preparation of nutritious food.  

The Akshaya Patra Foundation’s mechanised kitchen at Vrindavan which serves over 1.63 lakh children enrolled in over 1,600 government primary schools in Mathura district employs 32 women as part of the entire process of food preparation.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation’s mid-day meal programme — the largest mid-day meal programme in the world that has crossed the one billion mark —works on a public- private partnership mode with the Central and State governments; the Foundation has expanded its footprint across the country to cover over 1.3 million children in eight States and one Union Territory.

That what started as a meal programme a decade back today not only addresses hunger and need for education but also has need-based interventions such as health and life skills.     

Kamlesh has been working at the Akshaya Patra kitchen since 2006. She gets Rs. 5,000 per month for working from 9.30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Her job involves cutting vegetables and rolling chapattis for the staff. Bishakha Rani Haldar has been employed here since the past four years. In addition to the salary, she gets Provident Fund and health facilities. 

Women are only put on daytime duty and are mostly involved in chopping vegetables, washing utensils and rolling chapattis for the staff. Everything else is done mechanically to maintain the highest quality of hygiene and maintain nutrition levels.

The women employees are given blue uniforms to impart a sense of equality and health check-up every three months, including dental check-up, is part of the package which is in accordance with the labour laws. If there is a health emergency, they are immediately rushed to hospital. “We have never faced any kind of harassment here and we feel similar food should be served to children across the country,” the women speak in chorus. “Our children are grown up but it gives a great sense of satisfaction to feed small children,” they add.  

Women’s self help groups are trained to set up and run decentralised kitchens in Rajasthan, Odisha and Mathura. By providing employment to local women, the programme enhances their socio-economic status. Importantly, environment-friendly methods are adopted to sustain the community and offer a means of livelihood.   

The mid day meal programme ensures that children deprived of nutritional security, are provided meals with the right nutritional profile to ensure full cognitive development. Over the years, the scheme has helped improve school enrolment and attendance, thus, contributing to every Indian child’s right to education.