I arrived on Friday, July 11th, and you welcomed me, your friend from Akshaya Patra USA.
An auspicious occasion: we made preparations for the visit for President Bill Clinton and two dozen of his Clinton Global Initiative delegates.
On Monday, July 14th, I met Dr. Seema Parashar, a brilliant, compassionate and articulate principal of Government senior secondary girls school, Gandhinagar, Jaipur. I also met Monika and Aarti and dozens of Dr. Seema’s students. They stood in front of me and one by one gave testimony. What of their home lives? What does school and the Akshaya Patra meal that allows them to be nourished with food and education mean to them? The answer: it means everything. It means hope.
At the next girls’ school where we stopped, a teacher told me her story. Cheered on by her widowed mother who lacked education, she had continued to study even after her arranged marriage at the age of 14. The marriage was sealed by poverty. Her future was sealed by education. This is all she asked for the girls at her school: let them be free to attend school.
Two more girls testify. They “rely” on the food – the Akshaya Patra mid-day meal. Without it, the cost of their food and that of their siblings’ would exceed their families’ daily means. Without it, they would be doing menial jobs and out of school – Hope ended.
On Wednesday, July 16th, the buzz of the kitchen machinery still whirring in our ears, President Clinton listened. Monika, Aarti and Rohit shared. How often do you eat?
Rohit may get a couple of rotis at night, but at school, with Akshaya Patra food, he can have all the food and the rotis he can eat. He is going to be a police officer; to help others, he needs to be strong.
In addition to her hot Akshaya Patra mid-day meal, Monika may have cold leftovers from another family’s table, but only on the days when her mother completes her duties there as a housemaid.
Aarti wants to be a teacher; she will help her family and teach the children in government schools who she knows are Hungry for School.
Monika aspires to be just like Dr. Seema, her role model. She will be a school principal one day.
Dr. Seema remembers: there were 7 of us girls in school. Coming from a desert nomadic area, Dr. Seema recalls: “ Of the 7 of us girls in school together, only one continued. That one was me. If only Askhaya Patra had been in our school then..” Thoughts of what might have been, what could have been, what should have been fill our heads. The other girls were sent to work and marriages too soon. These thoughts weigh heavily on Dr. Seema. She is determined that this ending will be different in her school, for her girls. We are determined, too!
Monica plays tennis. Dr. Seema sees to it that her girls to have strong bodies and strong minds. Without the food, she would not have the strength to play. Today, she has this strength. Today, we also see that she also has the strength to hold fast to her dreams. President Clinton speaks our minds:” Hold onto your dreams,” he implores.
Thank you for introducing us to Dr. Seema and the children.
We will remember and honor their stories.
We will tell of your children rising.
Thank you for listening. You can help.
Over the course of last 14 years, Akshaya Patra has developed a process whereby it can deliver a hot nutritious, tasty midday meal to over 1.3 million children DAILY for just under 12 cents per meal. A public-private partnership, the government of India contributes half. So for only $15 a year, a donor here in the US or anywhere around the world can support a child, who is Hungry for School and eager to make it in this world.
Please visit https://www.foodforeducation.org/donate. With your help we can reach 5 million children DAILY by 2020.
CEO, Akshaya Patra USA
The Jaipur kitchen which President Clinton visited on July 16th is one of 20 centralized kitchens which Akshaya Patra operates in 10 states throughout India. President Clinton toured Akshaya Patra’s centralized kitchen facility and met with students, teachers and principals during his kitchen tour and school visit. Akshaya Patra was one of the organizations that President Clinton visited in Asia to focus on critical issues, including global health, improved access to medicines, climate change and economic development.