Long ago, in a remote village in Delhi, lived a little girl with her destitute father. Bhagyawati, ironically, was deprived of the luck her name should have brought her. While she toiled with her father in fields, Narayana knew educating her daughter was a dream so distant. Narayana’s worries couldn’t be concealed from other fellow farmers he worked with. Much to his surprise, when Bipin told him about free mid-day meals being served at a small school nearby, Narayana was hopeful to do everything it would take to send Bhagyawati to school. Blessed was she with a father who helped her fight all odds to pursue education. 19 years have passed since Bhagyawati initiated free teaching in her village. Proud Narayana will always be thankful to Bipin.
While the rich may have 5 times more access to education, it was Bhagyawati’s fate that she had to struggle. We are happy to learn about girls like Bhagyawati who aim to shoulder family duties despite abysmal poverty. Stories of food deprived children like Bhagyawati rarely cross our minds. Every poor child’s struggle for survival involves toiling endless hours in hope for a better life. Bins and streets have become their habitual abode for sustenance. Do you know our country contributes to 17% of the world’s population? Around 27 million children are born in India every year and nearly 2 million of these don’t even live up to the age of five. And why is that? That is solely because we are not feeding them. Or in other words, we can blame malnourishment.
A great number of children in India, particularly those belonging to low-income families, begin to struggle the real-world battles at an early life stage. Despite the Right to Education being a law, it is shocking to see that 33 million children are being pushed into several forms of child labour. One in every 11 children in India toils in fields or in household industries. He or she strives endlessly for a one-day meal. Aren’t these statistics alarming? We were disheartened to see families considering their children to be an additional resource of income. That is why at Ekta Shakti Foundation we motivate children to choose education over work.
Bhagyawati still had a better fate, we have seen children carrying heavy bags early in the morning. And these bags couldn’t be mistaken for stationery and books. These were full of rags instead. To satiate the starving bellies these kids even looked for discarded food in bins. A good meal a day is something these children dream of only. For the world at large, child labour is an evil that still needs to be eliminated, because we have resources to ourselves. Children working as domestic helpers say that working 10 to 12 hours a day had been strenuous. But at the end of the day, they were sure they had enough to eat. Ever since the government issued the notification on October 10, 2006, these children were prohibited from working.
The mid-day meal program in India came with the primary objective of avoiding classroom hunger. It was implemented to lessen child labour, reduce malnutrition, uplift school enrolment and attendance. Indeed, with people like Bipin, our country is achieving these objectives slowly. With this thoughtful initiative by the Government of India, the old mentality of people is gradually changing. Making education accessible to all in our country is the need of the hour and so is food. One must understand that when the nutritional status is improved, the quality of life will enhance, and hence, food should come first.
We support the state in assisting education through the mid-day meal scheme. ‘Annam Parabrahma Swaroopam’, as goes the Indian philosophy and as our great ancient wise told us, ‘food is equal to God’. But as their descendants, are we all giving food the respect it deserves? Ekta Shakti Foundation does. We have joined hands with the Government of India. We believe our mission will benefit more children like Bhagyawati for real when everyone combines with us. In what ways can one contribute? To begin with, you can respect such children and people, who work all day for nourishment, by not wasting food. Like Narayana, there are many who till date have no knowledge of our government’s beneficiary schemes. Let’s devote a part of ourselves to spread the word to as many needy sections as we can. Even in little ways we all can make a huge difference.
Along with Narayana, many parents in the economically weaker positions rely on school lunch programs to feed their children. These wholesome meals have encouraged the students to get their siblings enrolled as well. Earlier, many children went home to eat during the lunch breaks but didn’t return to school. The same meal that was then hindering their education has now become the reason to attend school. In an interesting way socialization among children too has been promoted. MDM scheme has reduced much the gap between lower and upper castes and classes. Students sit together to eat and that is how they enjoy the meal more.
The hygienic food practices under the scheme ensure every child, from the humble sections, gets the necessary amount of nutrients. A properly fed student can focus better on academics than a malnourished one who may not focus at all. With proper nutrition Bhagyawati not only improved her future but she also set on her mission to uplift the future of many in her village. India is our country. When we understand every child is an asset for future national abundance, we will see the country developing at an unbelievable pace.