MIAMI, Florida — The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing meals for school children in India and the United Kingdom.
Expanding to the UK
In 2020, the Akshaya Patra Foundation partnered with U.K. charity God is My Silent Partner (GMSP) to establish a feeding kitchen in Watford, London, with the aim of supplying thousands of nutrient-dense yet low-cost meals to disadvantaged children in the area. This kitchen, a replication of the Akshaya Patra Foundation’s model in India, is able to create about 9,000 nutritious meals per day.
A 2018 report by the All-Party Parliamentary Group states that more than 3 million children in the United Kingdom face the risk of hunger, especially during school recesses when schools close. For many impoverished children, a cost-free school meal is “the only guaranteed meal” of the day. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated this situation with prolonged school closures.
Beginnings in India
In 2001, the Supreme Court of India declared that “all the state governments and union territories” must introduce a Mid-Day Meal Scheme, in which schools provide one cost-free meal to school children at noon. On its website, the Akshaya Patra Foundation explains that through the assistance of India’s central and state governments, the organization “expanded its operations to officially contribute toward the Mid-Day Meal Programme.”
In an interview with The Borgen Project, Radhika Iyer, Director for Communications at the Akshaya Patra Foundation, explains that through this program, the Foundation began distributing meals at lunchtime to about 15,000 school children across five government institutions in Bengaluru, Karnataka.
Although the charity is two decades old, its work ethic is astounding, now assisting more than 1.8 million school children across 19,000 government-funded schools with hot meals from 52 kitchens to address hunger among children. The Foundation is able to accomplish this through a Public-Private Partnership model, which entails support from national and regional governments and philanthropic donors.
Impacts of the Pandemic
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic affected many children relying on the “midday meal” — as many as 87% in government schools in India’s rural regions. The program had benefits spanning beyond immediate nutrition to improving school attendance rates. Not only did school closures impact the feeding program, but reduced government budgets also played a role.
India’s latest data from the National Family Health Survey (2019-21) finds that about a third of Indian children younger than five endured stunting and showed signs of being underweight, “with little or no improvement in child nutrition levels since the previous survey” in 2015-16. Research shows that school feeding programs can mitigate the impacts of “early growth failure and other negative shocks.”
The Devastating Impacts of Malnutrition
In December 2020, Save the Children cautioned that malnutrition stemming from the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic could potentially lead to the deaths of 153 children per day across the world over the following two years. The organization urged the U.K. as a global leader to step in and address global malnutrition amid the pandemic.
Kevin Watkins, CEO of Save the Children expressed his concern over the situation, prompting the U.K. government to “recommit to reaching 50 million women and children through nutrition programs by 2025, backed by flexible and predictable financing.” Watkins emphasized, “There is no greater cause than protecting children from the scarring effects of COVID-19.”
Through the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, the Akshaya Patra Foundation helped boost school attendance, reduce the dropout rate, improve gender equality in schools and improve educational performance among students. Iyer says “several Akshaya Patra beneficiaries have become achievers – by bagging dream jobs.” In addition, “beneficiaries have brought their families out of the poverty cycle by completing education.”
Overall, the Akshaya Patra Foundation works to address hunger and malnutrition among disadvantaged school children in India and the U.K. These efforts span beyond nutrition, helping children to complete their education and break cycles of poverty.
– Jacara Watkins
Photo: Courtesy of Akshaya Patra Foundation