Saturday, January 23, 2010
What's cooking at ISKCON ?
Due to extreme poverty people including those Below Poverty Line (BPL) cannot send their children to schools. These children are usually sent out to do odd jobs and earn some money.
Keeping this in mind, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) started an innovative and a pioneering project in Indian schools called 'Akshaya Patra'. The aim of the project was to provide mid-day meals to school children in rural areas and in places marked by poor economic conditions. Freshly prepared food would be delivered directly to the schools and served to these school children in the afternoon.
‘The Akshaya Patra Foundation’, involved in providing nutritious food to school children in Mysore district, was started in August 2004 and is today feeding 14,000 students daily in 60 schools under the mid-day meal programme.
Akshaya Patra Foundation is a public, charitable, secular Trust, registered in Bangalore. The Board of Trustees comprises missionaries of ISKCON Bangalore, corporate professionals and entrepreneurs.
The programme, 'Unlimited Food For Life' was initiated by ISKCON founder Acharya A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada. To fulfill the desire of Srila Prabhupada, Madhu Pandit Dasa, President of ISKCON, Bangalore, initiated the project known as "Akshaya Patra". The project was started in 2000 in Bangalore by adopting state-of-the-art technology in cooking.
After the success of Akshaya Patra project in Bangalore, it began its operations in Mysore on 16th August 2004, feeding 300 children in a school. The main aim of Akshaya Patra is to serve food for children below poverty line and to encourage them to continue their school education.
The Akshaya Patra kitchen at ISKCON Mysore was constructed according to a pre-planned, well laid out infrastructure and is completely mechanized. The kitchen incorporates state-of-the-art cooking technologies to minimise handling by cooks in order to ensure hygiene without compromising on quality and hygiene of the food [See pics alongside].
Some salient features of Akshaya Patra kitchen:
• The staff in the kitchen comprise around 60 people.
• It has three stainless steel cookers each with a capacity of 100 kg.
• Two sambar cookers each with a capacity to cook 1200 ltrs sambar.
• Steam boilers of industrial standards.
• Stainless steel cauldrons
• Specially designed containers for transporting food and six custom-built vehicles for distributing food to schools are also part of the equipment.
As most of the processes like cutting vegetables, loading the containers are all mechanized, this prevents food contamination.
Akshaya Patra adheres to high standards of quality. Even the employees are trained in cooking and follow hygienic standards.
The Government of India and Karnataka provide Rs. 2.60 per meal to the Akshaya Patra Foundation. The actual cost comes to around Rs. 5.40 per meal. The Akshaya Patra Foundation has to raise the donations from public to meet the deficit. The Central and Karnataka governments also provide sub-sidised land, water and 100% tax exemptions for donations towards Akshaya Patra Foundation which help the foundation to render quality service to un-derprivileged children.
"The governing body and management have formulated well-defined processes, which bring in efficiency and quality into our operations. We follow established processes for cooking meals and distributing them. Specially designed kitchens employing latest technology ensures quality and cost efficiency,” says Mahaprabhu Gauranga Dasa, Operation Manager, Akshaya Patra Foundation.
"Menu for the daily meals is planned based on the advice of nutritional experts to ensure best nutritional combination is provided for the child’s overall development. The kitchen has the capacity to cook 30,000 meals in 4 hours," he adds.
"Today, we firmly believe that feeding and educating an underprivileged child is not charity but it’s our social responsibility. We set forth to empower and enable underprivileged children by providing them with food for the body, mind and intellect. We are happy to state that we have achieved our mission objective of feeding 1 million children by 2010, in early 2009. We continue to reach out to more and more children, giving each one the equal opportunity to unlock their true potential. We now aspire to reach 5 million children by 2020."
"Mobilisation of funds from charitable organisations and individuals in Mysore city for this is very less because of which we are unable to reach the target. We need good organizational and individual support to continue and expand our service to the underprivileged school children," adds Mahaprabhu, who can be contacted on Mob: 99452-84334.
"Since Akshaya Patra was launched in our schools, children have enrolled for higher classes in greater numbers than before — an increase in the attendance from 60% to 80%," says a teacher.
When Star of Mysore conducted a survey in some schools, the children shouted in chorus: "We get hot meals everyday and we enjoy it."
The Akshaya Patra programme has a simple vision:
"No child in India should be deprived of education because of hunger."
About Akshaya Patra
The Akshaya Patra project, started in five schools in Bangalore feeding 1,500 children, has now grown into a mammoth endeavour reaching out to over a million children in 18 locations all over India. All kitchens are designed by the Akshaya Patra management consisting of qualified engineers to optimise quality and minimise cost. These are located at Bangalore, Hubli-Dharwad, Bellary, Mysore & Mangalore in Karnataka; Vrindavan & Mathura district in Uttar Pradesh; Jaipur, Baran and Nathdwara in Rajasthan; Puri and Nayagarh district in Orissa; Ahmedabad & Gandhinagar in Gujarat; Hyderabad & Vishakapatnam in Andhra Pradesh and Bhilai in Chhattisgarh.