Thursday, 5 July 2012
Wednesday, 4 July 2012
This past Tuesday, Kavi, and I went to see Akshaya Patra in action. I had heard about the kitchens that could feed over 100,000 and I was eager to contextualize the theory with the practice. Our group met in the early morning and proceeded to kitchen by Auto Rickshaw. In order to see the kitchen in action, we had to arrive early as cooking mass quantities of food requires time. Additionally, some public schools are a considerable distance from the kitchen and early cooking is needed from a prompt delivery of the midday meals.
When we arrived at the kitchen, I was struck by its size in relation to its production - it was smaller than I had anticipated. This brief eyebrow raising moment galvanized my curiosity to look inside and learn about the inner workings of an Akshaya Patra kitchen. Eagerly, I traded in my shoes at the door for a pair of rubber chappals and entered to sate my interest.
Our tour of the three-story facility began at top. This was the most sensible option as the facility utilizes gravity to transport the product to each stage of development. The roof holds the silo of grain, which flows to the next level where it is measured and treated before being deposited down one of several shafts. At the bottom of these shafts are massive cauldrons, which boil and cook the rice. We watched as the rice was extracted from the cauldrons and loaded into the barrels for delivery. Rice is hardly the only product of the kitchen. To satisfy the diverse pallets of hungry customers,
Akshaya Patra differentiates its menu throughout the week and caters to different regions depending upon their preferences.
With the barrels packed into the blue buses, we decided to visit the schools and see the impact of the mid day meal program first-hand. The schools we visited were less furnished or staffed but the children therein were inspirational. If I had any doubts about the impact of Akshaya Patra, the smiling, enthusiastic faces of the children would have been enough to dispel them.
One child remarked that this was the only meal she would receive all day. Another stated that her brothers and sisters lived in other people's house, probably as domestic servants. And yet despite these conditions, the children remained upbeat and some were individual forces of nature. We left the final school amid effusive goodbyes to the kids and I was glad to see the real world impact of Akshaya Patra.
We returned to the kitchen briefly to gather our belonging and watch the containers and barrels being cleaned. I was impressed by Akshaya Patra's dedication towards providing hygienic food. Along with this commitment, my experience at the kitchen reinforced my perception that Akshaya Patra operates on a high level of efficiency for an NGO. So, I was not at all surprised later when I heard that Akshaya Patra has integrated corporate techniques.
As we left the kitchen, I reflected on a couple aspects of the visit. First and foremost, the hospitality of Akshaya Patra Foundation and the local community continues to amaze me. The Sanskrit saying, " Atithi Devo Bhava" (Guest is God) is evident everywhere I go. One example came early in our trip when the local kitchen staff offered their beds for Ravi and I. In our groggy, jet-lagged state, we readily accepted the offer without asking any questions and were shown to a small apartment building. Only after waking up from a lovely nap did I ask myself if I would have done the same for someone I had just met. I was not sure then and I still am not sure now. Second, the larger vision of Akshaya Patra fell into focus as I observed the social issues at the schools we visited. The prevalence of girls at these schools drew towards a larger conclusion of gender inequality. In turn, Akshaya Patra addresses these issues by providing a supportive environment at school that does not discriminate by levels. A good education will lead to better opportunities in the future. This education will create a systemic impact on the local community lifting a family out of poverty and displacing prejudices. This larger goal enhanced my respect for this organization.
Bachelor of Arts in Government and Religious Studies Claremont McKenna