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Akshaya Patra, Narasimha Das is on its way to feed 169,379 hungry children. A devotee of Lord Krishna Das oversees operations in an industrial-sized kitchen in the Hindu religious town of Vrindaban, on a three-hour tour of New Delhi. While waiting for work, stones in crisis gently entrance to the facility in the shadow of an agile October morning.
It is only 3 in the morning, but the kitchen, run by the Akshaya Patra Foundation, which exudes the warm aroma of freshly baked chapati. Thirty men in overalls and protective mouth and hair in silence the workforce more tons of wheat flour and pasta. Less than five hours to tens of thousands of rounds of flat bread from India that will be charged in heat insulation, vans free of dust and transported to 1,516 schools in and around Vrindavan.
As the cameras of the world focus on India this week with U.S. President Barack Obama made his first visit to New Delhi, scenes like this – and the problems it highlights – they are not able to capture much international attention. Despite the upbeat economy and growing geopolitical influence, India remains home to more malnourished children than any other country, 42% of children with low weight of the world under 5 years living here. An index of hunger in the world published this month by the International Food Policy Research Institute, India ranked number 67 of 84 countries in indicators such as child malnutrition, child mortality and calorie deficiency.
(See photos of changing visual landscape of India.)
It is hardly a new problem. To address the intertwined problems of persistent hunger, child malnutrition and illiteracy, India launched the Plan lunch, the largest school lunch program in the world, around the 1960′s. Today, the program draws students 120,000,000 every day throughout the country. Akshaya Patra, a nonprofit organization based in Bangalore is its largest partner organizations, 17 kitchens run through eight states and provide hot meals to more than 1.26 million children every day in their schools. The program aims to feed 5 million children in 2020, describes Obama as a “powerful demonstration of what is possible when people work together,” now running on a model public-private partnership, with 65% of its funding from the government.
Das, president of the operation of Vrindaban, tells TIME Vrindaban kitchen now makes 250,000 cakes, four tons of rice, more than two tons of lentils and between five and six tons of vegetables every morning. The menu, developed with the needs of growing children and local food habits in mind, consists of rice or chapatis and other Indian soup, as daal or Kadhi (a soup made with yogurt and flour), with vegetables and, once week, the dessert.
The subject of a 2007 study by Harvard on time management, Akshaya Patra began offering cooking nutritious meals on their own initiative for 1,500 school children in Bangalore in 2000, a year before the Supreme Court of India became mandatory for the government to provide cooked meals to children in all primary schools and assisted by the government every day. “It was amazing the amount of food we take for granted, the intention of these children,” says Chanchalapathi Dasa, vice chairman of Akshaya Patra Foundation. In 2006, the NGO is connected to the federal system of lunches, which has been a great success and is seen as key to helping India meet its Millennium Development Goals of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and achieving education universal primary. funds this program and increased from about 670 million in 2005-06 to just over one billion and in 2006-07.
Despite its success, Akshaya Patra guiding principle has remained the same: that no child in India will be lost in education because they are too hungry to attend. For more than 13 million children in India attend school is not a priority, because if workers are not starving. Despite repeated requests from other parts of the developing world, Akshaya Patra want to continue to focus on India. “We have enough to feed starving children in India,” says Dasa.
Later in the morning the delivery truck arrives Akshaya Patra Elementary School Gopalgarh, a little over a kilometer away from the kitchen. The children wait with anticipation to the familiar sound of food containers being unloaded from the truck to reach their ears. Binodini Laxmi, the director, says that attendance has increased from 120 to 200 students since the program began in their school four years ago. The number of girls has doubled. “Parents now have an incentive to send girls to school. Before age would be taken after  to stay home and cooking and other tasks,” says Binodini. A survey by Akshaya Patra showed that, from her kitchen began in Vrindaban in 2006, attendance at schools in the city increased from 80.6% to 92.4% and the proportion of underweight children fell from 38 % to 26%.
When the gong sounds for lunch at noon, children drop out of the classroom. Expected, while the teachers share the soft chapatis and lentils and steamed vegetables. Laxman, a 12 year old, is back for a few seconds. According to its name, which means an endless bowl of food, Akshaya Patra allowed as rations to the children want – as long as you finish what’s on your plate.