The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which provides a mid-day meal every school day to approximately 1.4 million Indian youths, is the largest provider of mid-day meals in the world. This summer, my main responsibility is to interview parents, teachers, headmasters, and, when appropriate, the general public, in order to gain insights into the ways in which a daily mid-day meal motivates families to send their children—and especially their daughters—to school for longer periods of time. The Akshaya Patra Foundation has two primary and interrelated goals. First, the Foundation seeks to supply children to with a mid-day meal to incentivize participation in government schools and, consequently, to help alleviate child labor and slavery. Often times, children attending government schools are forced to drop out of school to work menial and often dangerous jobs to provide supplementary income to their families. Since the children are fed during the school day, it often becomes possible for them to attend school, rather than working to pay for their own mid-day meal.
Every day, I will visit three government schools and interview children ranging in age from seven to sixteen years old. I will interview nine children per day. In addition, over the course of the summer, I will interview several former mid-day meal beneficiaries who have received scholarships towards the cost of their post-secondary education. I will use these interviews to write a series of “case studies” for the Foundation. These “case studies” may be circulated internally within Akshaya Patra, or may be displayed on the Foundation’s website with the hope of motivating potential donors to support the Foundation by qualitatively demonstrating the “impact” of the mid-day meal program.
Akshaya Patra is far from the only NGO to supply a mid-day meal to Indian youths. The Foundation receives half of its funding through the Indian government due to a federal mandate and national scheme that required that every child enrolled in an Indian government school is entitled to a mid-day meal. Since Akshaya Patra’s Bangalore headquarters raises approximately 40 percent of the necessary operating costs, funders that give in the United States account for only ten percent of the overall expenses. This differentiates Akshaya Patra from many other transnational NGOs. Because all of the food production—and the vast majority of the fundraising—come from Indian sources, the Foundation it is much more likely to remain sustainable in the communities that it serves.
Since the Foundation has asked me to write about “success” stories in order to demonstrate “impact,” I have proposed a senior thesis topic that explore the relationship between “success”—as defined by the informants—and caste/class status. More specifically, I have proposed to write about how notions of “success” are used by transnational NGOs, like the Akshaya Patra Foundation, as a means to motive foreign donors—primarily from the United States and western Europe—to support their work. I will engage with issued of “modernity” and “progress” as a way to interpret what “counts” as “success”—for the Indian students, for the transnational NGOs, and for the foreign philanthropic audience. I’m hopeful that this work, which will be informed by the interviews I conduct this summer, will also be helpful to the Akshaya Patra Foundation. I’m looking forward to sending a copy of my findings.
I have the wonderful opporunity to stay at the ISKCON temple complex while I am in Bangalore. Akshaya Patra is affiliated with the ISKCON temple through A. C. Bhaktivdanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the ISKCON.
ISKCON Bangalore’s website can be found here.
ISKCON Bangalore temple complex
(photo source: http://www.iskconbangalore.org/our-temple-0)
One of Akshaya Patra’s 24 kitchens across ten states in India
(photo source: https://theakshayapatrafoundation.wordpress.com)
-Shane Weitzman ’16