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Akshaya Patra Leading the Way

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, a non-profit organization with the vision that no child shall be deprived of education because of hunger, runs the largest midday meal program in the world. The organization simultaneously addresses the twin challenges facing India - hunger and access to education.

iskcon-hubli akshaya patraAkshaya Patra set up its first kitchen in 2000 to feed 1,500 children in Bangalore and has scaled its operations to feed over one million children on a daily basis in government schools, through 19 kitchens in eight states. The nutritious meal is hygienically prepared and catered for the local appetite. This gives them an incentive to come to school, stay in school and provides them with the necessary nutrients they need to develop their cognitive abilities to focus on learning. These meals have produced dramatic results on children's health, school attendance and academic performance, most notably for girls as demonstrated by AC Nielsen, an independent research firm. Akshaya Patra is the result of an extraordinary public-private partnership to address one of India's greatest challenges - to ensure that its next generation becomes healthy, educated adults and productive members of Indian society. This public-private partnership exemplifies what can be accomplished when the public sector, private sector and the civic society collaborate - a cost effective, scalable solution with high quality service delivery. Akshaya Patra combines good management, innovative technology and smart engineering to deliver school lunch for a fraction of the cost of similar meal programs in other parts of the world - it costs $28 to feed a child daily for the entire year. With an average government subsidy of 50 percent, $28 can actually feed two children. Akshaya Patra's largest kitchen, located in Hubli-Dharwad, prepares meals for 185,000 children in less than five hours. Food stocks are sourced from local farmers, insulating the program from external price shocks and the organization employs local workers. Now that Akshaya Patra has crossed its milestone of feeding one million children each school day, the organization's next goal is to serve 5 million children daily by 2020. Akshaya Patra has won many awards and accolades. In a letter, Akshaya Patra was heralded by President Barack Obama as "an imaginative approach that has the potential to serve as a model for other countries". Akshaya Patra was the winner of the prestigious 2009 Tech Award in the education category and was a top five finalist in the 2008 American Express Members Project. Featured at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2007 and 2008, Akshaya Patra was the winner of the ICAI Gold Shield Award for best financial reporting and was the winner of the 2008 CNBC-TV India Business Leader Award for Social Enterprise of the Year.

Inside the Hubli Akshaya Patra Kitchen

He heard two people speaking of Akshaya Patra at a bus stop one day, says Gopal Londe and grew curious about the Foundation. "They were talking about how there was good work here and the compensation was excellent. When I came to Hubli, I decided to find out more. I didn't know this then, but it turned out one of my cousins was working here too. And that's how I came to do my job", he says. In the four years since he first started, says Gopal, he has worked on all three floors of Hubli's massive infrastructure, often hailed as one of the largest kitchens in the world. Currently, he and his co-workers are responsible for rice cleaning on the 2nd floor.

Akshaya Patra's third generation of kitchens, like the Hubli facility, harness the potential energy in gravity for the benefit of the cooking process in what has been termed "Gravity Flow Mechanism". Dal and rice stored in silos on the 3rd floor flows down chutes to the 2nd floor to be cleaned before cooking. By the time the their day is over, Gopal and his co-workers will have cleaned approximately 15 to 16 tons of rice, 3 to 3.5 tons of dal and 9 to 10 tons of vegetables. Masala preparation and vegetable cutting also takes place on this floor. From here, they must be sent to the 1st floor where the actual cooking takes place in steam heated cauldrons. Here too, the potential energy in gravity is harnessed.

When Gopal lifts a steel lid approximately 20 inches in diameter, he reveals how tons of rice, dal and vegetables find their way to the cauldrons below. The floor of the 2nd storey is lined with two neat rows of such lids. Each one covers a chute that leads directly to the cauldrons. One row is reserved specifically for the rice cauldrons the other set for the dal, vegetables and masala used to make sambar. An open passage connects the two floors, allowing staff to communicate and coordinate their efforts. As the cooking in each cauldron is completed, a signal from the 1st floor, given either verbally or through a walkie-talkie, alerts Gopal and his team upstairs to pour rice, dal or any other required ingredients down the chutes to corresponding cauldrons.

On the 1st floor, as each cauldron of rice has finished cooking, a team will be ready with trolleys into which the steaming rice is emptied. These then take the rice to the large open chute that connects the 2nd floor to the ground floor. Each sambar cauldron has a connecting pipe flowing into a main duct that also leads to the ground floor. A team of members, ready with the requirements for each school, carefully pack food into steel containers to meet the corresponding route supervisor's request. Conveyor belts running the length of the packing area lead to the waiting food vans outside.

Effeluent Treatment Plant in Hubli

An appealing garden graces the Hubli kitchen campus, adding a serene quality to the sleek modern architecture of the building. Immaculately maintained, it is a testament to Akshaya Patra's "Go Green" efforts in Hubli, where we are aiming for ISO 14000 CERTIFICATION.

One of the successful initiatives of these efforts is the effluent treatment plant (ETP) that has been running for nearly a year. Laxman Wakkunda, who is part of the team responsible for smooth running of the ETP explains how the plant functions. "Water from vegetable cutting, rice cleaning and vessel washing all comes in separately to the plant", he says, pointing to pipes leading from the kitchen into the ETP. It flows naturally into a series of troughs of differing heights, getting progressively cleaner as it flows from one trough to another. Laxman prepares the culture needed to clean the water everyday, which includes approximately 2kgs of sugar and half a kg of salt. "We use around 20 liters of it daily", he adds. "We prepare it 24 hrs in advance".

Maintaining and running the ETP is a 24 hour job according to him. "The kitchen shift starts as early as 2:30 in the morning, and our work begins from then", he says. Laxman works together with his co-worker Hanumanth Gathanavar to manage the day to day operations of the plant.

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