When asked how Akshaya Patra's meals are changing lives, Executive Director of Akshaya Patra India, Shridhar Venkat likes to share the following story:
“I keep telling this story to every new person I meet. I happened to meet this young boy, who was a beneficiary of Akshaya Patra a few years back. He had graduated and was now working. He was the son of a security guard, his father used to earn hardly Rs.1500 per month and he had four siblings. When he came to meet me, he came with a white envelope.
He told me that his father had been a temporary security guard. He said that he used to get 40% marks in 8th grade and many times he would faint during class, because there was no food at home. After Akshaya Patra came to his school, his attention span went up, he was able to focus on his studies. He was able to study hard, play hard. In 10th grade he got a grade of 92% and received scholarships to study 11th and 12th. He then got 97% in PCM and went on to earn a Bachelors of Technology in Computer Science.
In the envelope, in his hand was the offer letter from a leading company, MNC. He said his father no longer works, and he takes care of him. That’s the power of a meal. Most of us take meals for granted. But there are many millions of children in this country who go to bed hungry. This boy was one of them and that’s the difference it made”
The Akshaya Patra Foundation provides hot, school meals to more than 1.3 million children across India. Our meals encourage school enrollment, and giving under-served children access to life-changing educational opportunities. We would like to share with you the story of Sanjay, who dreams of a bright future:
Although Sanjay is just about three and a half feet tall at 13 years of age, the ambitious boy wants to join the armed forces when he grows up. “You need to be much taller for that,” says his teacher, Sugunavati, in a playful tone. One cannot be fooled by his size as this bright boy studying at the Mahadevi Hiriya Prathamika Shaale, Mysore, has an equally bright future since he is one of the highest scorers in his school. Despite his family’s economically unfortunate condition, he has a strong hold on his dreams and is working towards them.
When asked as to how this ambition came about, Sanjay said, “This has always been my ambition. I want to serve my country by becoming an Army Officer. My uncle who is in the Army is my inspiration. Besides protecting my country, I have observed my uncle’s confidence, his gait and personality to choose the defence for a goal.”
Sanjay stays in Sunkudkere, an area in Mysore which is known for frequent power cuts and water problems. His mother works as a domestic helper in households and has to leave early every morning. Due to time constraints she cannot prepare food for her three children, two of whom are girls. There are days when the kids have to depend entirely on the food that is provided by Akshaya Patra in their school. Sanjay is one such child who not only depends on this midday meal, but also loves the fresh hot and tasty food he gets from Akshaya Patra. “I’m grateful that such a facility is made available to us and I enjoy the food provided by Akshaya Patra to us,” says the boy.
Child activist Grace Abbott once said, “Child labor and poverty are inevitably bound together and if you continue to use the labor of children as the treatment for the social disease of poverty, you will have both poverty and child labor to the end of time.” On June 12, 2013 the world will celebrate World Day Against Child Labor and recommit itself to eradicating child labor . Child labor endangers the lives of children and prevents them from accessing the educational opportunities that can truly deliver them out of poverty.
Grace Abbott's words ring true in India, where some 26.8 million children are not attending school. Many come from impoverished families that struggle to earn the basic necessities. Economic necessities push some 45.2 million of these children (14 %) to take up menial labor jobs instead of going to school. 60% of children who dropped out of school cited the need to supplement family income through household chores and domestic work, and another 30% cited the need to earn money. In order to provide for their basic needs, families have to focus on short term goals, suing their children's labor. As a result, these families remain caught in a vicious cycle of poverty.
The story of Vishal, the little magician from Jaipur, is typical of many children caught in the cycle of poverty and illustrates how Akshaya Patra's innovative school lunch program is changing the equation for over 1.3 million under-privileged children. At one time you could find Vishal performing magic tricks in the streets of Jaipur. His mother, who works as a day laborer, says “I am forced to send my children to earn. Every parent has a dream, but my day-to-day thoughts are all about feeding our hungry stomachs. Earlier I would tell him to work the entire day, but because he gets good food and at the same time learns some lessons, I allow him to attend school most of the days.” She hopes that Vishal doesn’t lead a life of hardship and hopes that education will transform his life.
Your support of Akshaya Patra can make a difference in the lives of children by providing them with meals that act as an incentive for them to come to school, instead of to work.