Meet Pandit Dasa- The man who feeds millions of school children across several states in India

In the past 2 decades, India has seen significant growth with a population of over 1.3 billion. Foodgrain production has doubled up almost two times. There is plenty of food in our country yet the poor are starving. Despite having so many resources to boost industrial and economic growth, the nation still has nothing to show for people starving day in day out.

According to a survey, 190.7 million people go hungry every day, 3,000 children die every day from poor diet-related illness in India. It is no surprise that “Rich are getting richer and Poor are getting poorer”. It is difficult to explain the conditions of poor people who can’t afford to buy food and thereby they fail to meet the caloric demands of the body.

Credits: India CSR Network

Day by day, their stomachs keep growling but they are left with no other option as they survive somehow eating from garbage. Celebrities on TV channels claim that they are donating a whopping amount to the poor and needy, but on the ground level, the truth is different.

There is a saying that ‘if you feed others who are in an empty stomach, then you are considered on par with God. Akshaya Patra was founded in 2000, with the mission that “no child in India should be deprived of education because of hunger.”

The foundation aims to provide nutritious and hygienic meals to children in government schools through India’s ambitious mid-day meal scheme (MDM). It is the largest organized mid-day meal intervention in India, Akshaya Patra (AP) feeds nearly 17 lakh children every day, which is something spectacular.

They are partnered with the Government of India (GOI) and various State Governments. They don’t run short of money as they receive enormous funds from higher authorities. Currently, it’s the world’s largest (not-for-profit run) mid-day meal programme feeding over 1.66 million children from 11,548 schools across 12 states in India. Thanks to the Chairman of Akshaya Patra Foundation (AP), Madhu Pandit Dasa. Isn’t he a great soul?

“The success of the pilot encouraged us to expand the initiative to 4 locations where we provided mentorship to over 300 children in areas of their interest,” he added according to India Today. Further, he said that:

“This is also an occasion to say it is just a step forward — there are millions more dreams to be given a chance.” On the occasion, India Today Education had an exclusive conversation with Chanchalapathi Dasa, Vice Chairman, The Akshaya Patra Foundation, to know more about the foundation’s initiative and goals.

He said: “When we are providing mid-day meal on daily basis, we see there are many hidden talents in India. But, the children studying in government schools don’t have the right environment to bring out their talent.” Adding to this, Dasa said:

“The big schools in India have various clubs like robotics, dance, and music. But, children of government schools don’t have these clubs. Two years back, we went did a pilot project, looking for children who have very unusual dreams”

The foundation makes sure that no child in India sleeps hungry. Being asked whether Akshaya Patra Foundation would be able to reach every child in India, the vice-chairman Chanchalapathi Dasa said, “According to the Global Hunger Index report released by International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), India ranks 100th among 119 developing countries. The country is home to the second-highest population of undernourished people in the world despite being the world’s second-largest food producer.”

Speaking about the challenges, the vice-chairman said: “We only serve fresh food and the biggest thing in our mind every day is that the food should be safe. We have in all 36 kitchens and they all are ISO certified. And in a diverse country like India, implementing a programme of this scale is bound to be a challenging task.”

There For instance, said Dasa, when it became difficult to manually prepare rotis in bulk, “we developed an indigenous roti-making machine which dished out 10,000 rotis every hour. We further worked on it and today it can dish out 40,000 Rotis an hour!”

“Moreover, while the food production is going on we have quality officials who are BSc in Food Technology, checking and seeing whether the food temperature and cleanness is maintained,” he said.

Vice-chairman Dasa said that school authorities are cooperative as they make the work easier by serving the food to children in lunchtime. “School authorities are very cooperative when it comes to the Mid-Day Meal Programme. While there are helpers for actually serving the food to children, the headmaster and teachers are always around to make sure that the whole process goes on in a smooth manner,” said Dasa.

Not just for children, the foundation feeds even pregnant women as well as homeless citizens.”We also provide food for pregnant women and lactating mothers under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme. It is covered under the Supplementary Nutrition Programme (SNP) which also includes food for children in the age group of 6 months to 6 years,” the VC of Akshaya Patra said.

Akshaya Patra also planned to feed 5 million children in every school in a day by the year 2020. Taking about the foundation’s target to feed over 5 million children by 2020, Chanchalapathi Dasa said, “We are in talks with other State Governments to extend our services which will add to the overall feeding volume.”

He further added that every new unit will steer them a step closer to accomplishing their mission of reaching 5 million children.

Hailing from Chennai, Chaithanya G is the Managing Director of TheYouth. He has dedicated his whole life to reading and writing.