A free breakfast scheme at PSG Sarvajana HSS allows children from underprivileged homes to eat a healthy meal at the start of day.
It’s eight a.m. and there’s a steady trickle of students to the PSG College of Technology canteen. Among them is a bunch of school kids who walk in, mark their attendance, and eat a hot, filling breakfast of idli, sambar, chutney and a pongal or khichdi. Then, they cross the overbridge into their school and their respective classes.
Just three months ago, during the morning assembly, children, sometimes, would crumple to the ground in a faint. In the first period, teachers would face students who were listless and had little energy to concentrate on class.
That’s when the teachers and management of PSG Sarvajana HSS decided something must be done to help the children. They spoke to many of the students and their teachers and discovered that nearly 100 children (from Classes 6 to 12) in the school were going without breakfast.
Many left home as early as 6.30 a.m. to reach school by 9 a.m. or earlier for special classes. Others came from households too impoverished to provide them breakfast. Thus was born the free breakfast scheme for these children, funded by the faculty and students of PSG Institute of Management (PSGIM).
Siva Shanmugham of 6 A leaves his home in Perur at 6.15 a.m., Naveen of Class 10 at 7 a.m., and B. Senthil Kumar of Class 12 leaves his home in Annur Pachapalayam at 6.30 a.m. They all say the breakfast in school has made a huge difference to their lives. Sometimes, they would eat pazhaya soru for breakfast. But, by the time they reached school, we would be hungry again, they say.
M. Shobana Devi of Class 12, who travels from Semmedu, recalls how before the scheme began, she would feel very tired even during the first period. Gokilavani, of Class 12, who travels from Somanur, used to regularly skip breakfast. “Kannu irunduttu varum,” she says.
M. Hemalatha of Class 10 survived on just coffee for two years. “Now, I feel much better. I am attentive in class,” she says.
Angeline Jennifer eats the idlis with relish. “Enakku idli romba pidikkum,” she says. School principal R. Rajeswari says that for many of their school children, the concept of ‘tiffin’ is a novelty.
“For them, idli, chutney and sambar are like manna.” Many children come from underprivileged backgrounds; some parents leave very early to work in the fields or mills; some others are too tired fighting poverty to even buy provisions and send their kids to school on a full stomach, she says.
Ninety-seven children are part of the free breakfast scheme, and on any given day, about 70 of them turn up for breakfast. A student is nominated to mark attendance. To ensure the quality of food, teachers check the contents on the breakfast table and occasionally eat there too. Three teachers — T. Srividhya, S. Sivakumar and Beulah Joy Margret — are vital members of the programme.
Sivakumar, programme coordinator, says that the breakfast scheme has brought about a perceptible difference in concentration levels. Some students who were lagging behind in class now come within the top five ranks. The programme cost works out to about Rs. 45,000 a month (for providing breakfast to children for 20 working days), says R. Nandagopal , director, PSG IM. “The contributions are entirely voluntary and any shortfall is made up by the management.”
The best part of the breakfast programme is the unexpected bonding between those in the college and the school kids. As we speak to him, Dileepan, 13, a Class 8 student, asks: “Akka, can I please have breakfast with that anna?” and points in the direction of 21-year-old Vijaykumar who works in the Robotics Department. The two became friends in the canteen.
It does not stop with just friendship. Many college students also help the school kids by buying stationery and books, says Dr. Nandagopal. “Most importantly, when they see the college students, they are inspired to aim higher.”