Hunger and illiteracy are two of India’s most widespread and pressing problems. Although public schooling is offered free of cost to children aged 6–14, poverty bars the underprivileged from taking advantage. Typically hailing from slums and tribal areas, such children must either go hungry at school or resort to begging and child labor.
In 2004, the Government of Maharashtra appointed Annamrita to provide nutritional midday meals for primary school children. The initiative aims to break the hunger cycle by providing impoverished families the incentive to keep their children in school—and off the streets. Annamrita is a non-profit strategic program run for the benefit of all hungry students without consideration of caste, religion, or gender. For most children, it is their only complete meal of the day.
Numerous studies have demonstrated that there is a direct correlation between these lunch programs and increased student enrollment, attendance, attention spans, and exam scores. Other benefits include reductions in skin infection, anaemia, and marked improvements in body mass index.
For example, when Annamrita started providing meals to 23,000 students who lived in the Mumbai slums, within six months,
The school attendance of these children showed remarkable improvement
Their health and body weight improved remarkably
Now Annamrita has extended its outreach to children in 60% of the Mumbai slums. The total outreach as of now is 270,000 children.
Annamrita has trained cooks, who use the most advanced cooking technology under hygienic conditions, in a spiritual ambience. Cooked in the most cost-effective manner, the nutritious, sumptuous and sanctified meal consists of kichari (a mix of rice, pulses and vegetables, cooked with spices). It is the compassion and sincerity with which it is made that makes the meal tasty and healthy!
Each annamrita kitchen is equipped with the best technology to aid bulk cooking: heavy-weight vegetable-cutting machines, potato-peeling machines, and steam cookers that are fuel efficient.
The kichari is prepared with quality ingredients that meet the nutritional requirements of growing children. But most importantly, the team mixes a secret ingredient to the kichari it serves – love, devotion and compassion—that adds an unparalleled taste of purity, making the kichari satisfying to the stomach, mind and soul.
The kitchens are well equipped with water softener and purification plant, electronic weighing scales, custom built stainless steel refrigerators, high speed potato peelers, vegetable cubing and dicing machine and culinary steam generators. The double jacketed stainless steel cauldrons have a capacity to cook 300 Kilograms of kichari in 45 minutes. 95 vehicles fitted with racks deliver the food to the schools every morning.
The ventilation system is designed to clear the atmosphere and replace the entire 25,000 cubic feet of air in the kitchen in just 60 seconds. The recipe is computerized and the quantities of ingredients are programmed. It is the blend of technology and the spiritual atmosphere in the kitchens that go into making a sumptuous meal.
The day starts early at Annamrita kitchens. Dressed in work uniforms with caps and gloves, the cooks start preparing the meals by cutting the vegetables and cleaning rice and dahl. Once cooked, chaunce, prepared with spices and freshly cut tomatoes, is added. Kichari prepared in cauldrons is transferred into specially designed stainless steel containers that move forward through the conveyor system and are then covered with a lid and sealed. The containers are stacked in stainless steel racks fitted in delivery vans and transported to the schools.
The school coordinator receives the sealed food containers. During the lunch break, piping hot nutritious and delicious sanctified kichari in sumptuous quantity is served to the students. There are no limitations on quantity and students may eat as much as they desire.
Annamrita has six ISO-certified, custom-built kitchens. To feed one student costs only ten cents per day, or $20.35 per school year.
Best NGO Partner Award, from Indian Development Foundation
Vocation Excellence Award, the highest award given by Rotary
Best Organization in Social Work, from D. Y. Patil Group
“We are grateful to have got the opportunity to study the midday meal model in India. We would like to help out the underprivileged in Botswana by implementing similar programs in our country” – Government of Botswana, Botswana, Africa.
“Such kicharii is not available even in our homes.” – Sri Rajendra Darda, School Education Minister, Maharashtra (India).
“So many poor students come from slums. Now that they are provided good and nutritious food to eat at proper time, their focus on their academics and other activities has definitely got better. For example, Anil Asharfilal , a student in 7th grade, has changed a lot . Now he sits comfortably and peacefully, and really appreciates what we explain to him in the classroom. Another example is that of Aarti Pradeep who used to be a very thin girl. From the time she is getting nutritious food, she has started participating in each and every school activity.
Quantity of students has increased and dropout has reduced. Those children who had to run here and there to eat, like beggars, they don’t go begging anymore. Previously some children wouldn’t come to school. They used to do begging or work to get some 2 to 4 rupees (around 0.5 cents); now that has reduced. Regularity in students has increased.” – RB Pandey, Principal, KK Marg Hindi School, Mumbai
“They are making excellent midday meals in the most hygienic condition in a way that it is not only wholesome, it is also very tasty and nutritious.” – Mr. Johny Joseph, Ex- Municipal Commissioner, Mumbai
“Mid day meal is good and students eat it with great happiness. Most of my students are poor. Whatever food we give them here, that type of food they certainly do not get at their homes. The food provided by Annamrita is so protein rich. Most of the parents of these children are street hawkers. They don’t prepare meals at home every day. They depend a lot on how much they earn on any day.” – Daksa Rathore, Deputy Head teacher, Keshav Rao Khade Marg Gujarati School, Mumbai