January 2017

A good taste

“We shall overcome, we shall overcome, we shall overcome, some day; Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome, some day.”

Annapoorna kitchens funded by Tata Trusts

The haunting tune of the legendary protest song of freedom movements around the globe, including the African-American civil rights movement of the 1960s, ring through the courtyard of the Eklavya Model Residential School (EMRS) at Mundhegaon in Igatpuri taluka of Maharashtra’s Nashik district. Some 40 girls of the school, belonging to impoverished families living in the state’s tribal belt, evocatively render the powerful song. More than 500 students — boys and girls — are studying at the residential school for tribal children. For most of their parents, toiling away in harsh fields, or working as migrant labourers in distant cities, it was a bold decision to leave their children at the residential school.

The students get quality education, accommodation in hostels, and, more importantly, nutritious meals. The Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, provides funds to state governments to run EMRS and residential ashram schools for the benefit of members of the scheduled tribes. In Maharashtra, there are four English-medium Eklavya residential schools, including the one at Mundhegaon. In June 2015, the Maharashtra Government signed a memorandum of understanding with Tata Trusts and Bengaluru-based non-profit Akshaya Patra to set up two centralised kitchens — called Annapoorna kitchens — in Mundhegaon and Kambalgaon in Palghar district.

The unique public-private partnership aims to provide wholesome food to students at EMRS and ashram schools in the state. The modern centralised kitchen, featuring state-of-the-art equipment, has a capacity for 20,000 meals a day. The kitchen is funded by Tata Trusts and Akshaya Patra is the technical adviser for the project. The food grains and branded food items are sourced from Walmart, Aurangabad, while vegetables, fruits and other ingredients are bought from Nashik. With many of these students coming from villages where malnutrition is an endemic problem, the healthy food they consume here has energised them into improving their performance in class. The wholesome food is definitely a game changer.

The students squat on the floor in a large hall and enjoy their meals. The food is simple — chapattis, vegetables, rice and dal. The servings are adequate and the growing children eagerly consume the food. Later, they wash the utensils and return them to the kitchen. The school’s central kitchen has four rice cauldrons, each with a 600-litre capacity and two more cauldrons for dal, each of 1,200 litres. Hygiene is emphasised: Anyone entering the kitchen has to wear a hair net, use a hand sanitiser, and ensure that cleanliness is maintained. The kitchen is washed thoroughly and even the mini-trucks that carry the meals to distant schools are cleaned before food packets are loaded. Quality control personnel check the content and places where foodgrains, vegetables and other inputs are stored, and all good manufacturing practices are followed.

This story is from the SRTT annual report 2015-2016 >>