Isha Vidhya, Isha Foundation’s project to improve rural education, has always attempted to provide holistic care to the children in its fold. A large section of Isha Vidhya students belong to the weaker sections of rural society, whose parents are daily wage earners. These parents typically tend to leave home early for the day’s work, and so cooking is generally done only in the night. A portion of this is also kept aside as next day’s breakfast and packed as lunch for the children as well.
In many of our schools, teachers noticed that the lunch brought in by many students spoilt by the lunch break. Given the hot climate of Tamil Nadu, where almost all Isha Vidhya Schools are located, the teachers figured that the meal cooked the previous day could not survive the heat and thus spoilt by lunch time the next day.
Teachers also noticed that quite a few students, especially those from financially weak backgrounds, brought food that consisted mostly of rice mixed with gravy and perhaps just a green chilly or a pickle as side dish. There were no vegetables or proteins and therefore the children were bereft of nutrition.
The school management realized that insufficient nutrition was the main cause of malnourishment among the students. During the annual health checkups held in all schools, doctors diagnosed that about 70% of the students suffered from anemia or malnutrition. This was of great concern as malnourishment in young children slows development of brain and body as well as depressing their abilities to grasp, retain and analyze.
It became clear that nutritious meals cooked in the school would be the only solution and also that it would have to be heavily subsidized to make it affordable for our targeted students. While the school management was trying to find funding, one of our long standing volunteers from the United Kingdom got in touch. He found a donor who was willing to sponsor construction and equipping of a kitchen in each of the seven Isha Vidhya schools and another donor who subsidized more than 50% of the meals for the first year. The donor for the kitchens had just one condition: he wanted the kitchens to be completed and become operational by the start of the new academic session which was less than two months away. The Isha team was so charged by the donor’s generosity and keenness to help that they rose to the challenge and completed all the seven kitchens albeit with a slight delay of 15 days.
Each noon meal is well-balanced and consists of proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and micronutrients. About 75% of the cost is subsidized by the school, which in turn is supported by donors. Till last year, the cost to children was Rs 4 per meal, which had to be increased to Rs 5 this year to meet the increasing cost of raw material and salaries to kitchen staff. For many children, this is perhaps the only good meal that they have in the day.
And this was how mid-day meals were started in Isha Vidhya.