Thursday, 11 December 2014

Let's Undo Classroom Hunger in India

Belonging to a truly "Tech(ie)" generation, I call myself a member of the "Undo" generation.  Unabashedly.  I am sure many or most of us do.

We are used to the ability to undo anything. Pretty much. Within the precincts of our privileged tech & online world. 

But, alas, how I wish we had the power to undo a whole lot, outside the online world. In the offline world.  Every experience in the offline world increasingly brings to my mind, our utter helplessness and inability to undo a whole range of ills plaguing our society and humankind, in general.

Chief among them - childhood hunger and educational deprivation because of that. One of the cruelest ways in which life can manifest.

Life - even for those raised in protective families, given more than average food, clothing, shelter, emotional security, education & protection - is far too tough these days. I can say that emphatically from my own limited but intense experience.  Leaves me aghast at life's depravity. 

How would life be, if we were, say 8 or 12 years old & have to either miss education because we can't afford it or because we have to find livelihood & food for the family? 

Sure, the Government of India (irrespective of which political party has been / is in power) has introduced schemes extending education to children without the access and means.  

But, as someone with keen interest in gardening, I can tell you - no matter how much shade & soil you give to plants - its the water & nutrition that you invest - that ultimately yield the sweetest fruits & the spectacular flowers.

For a child, the first brush of nutrition comes from food.  For anything we invest in a child to bear fruit, the child must be well satiated and well nourished. 

Therefore, to educate a child - we necessarily have to feed the child first.  This is where the various Government schemes around school meals as well as foundations such as Akshaya Patra Foundation deserve mention.  Each of these have made their own valuable contribution to a very vital social need.

To put this social need in perspective, let me quote some staggering statistics from The Wall Street Journal:

Number of malnourished people in India: 213 million 

Percentage of children under age 5 who are underweight: 48%

That latter number is striking because it extends to children not getting to school or dropping out of school; their families need them to find food first.

It is in this context & background that the Central (federal) and State Governments of India as well as non-profit foundations such as Akshaya Patra are concentrating on school meals - to not just avoid classroom hunger but to ensure the children are fit enough to receive education at its optimum.

Proof of the pudding lies in the eating, as they say.

I researched to find this International Growth Centre study.  The study begins by reminding us that undernourished children are more likely to have behavioural problems such as attention deficit, depression and aggression which in turn inhibit educational attainment.  I would add they go on to add to the Nation's crime statistics, eventually.  Such is the brutality of denial of basics.

The study finds practical proof that tackling classroom hunger by providing school meals results in improved attendance, fitness and concentration in school children - ultimately turning out better educational attainment.

This is good news.

Now, how do each of us - beneficiaries of a modern and tech India - participate in & give back to this cause?

Here is the first way in which I want to do it:

Nothing fancy.  I detest fancy announcements when it comes to social welfare. I prefer quiet, understated, focused, committed efforts at the individual and group level.

My thoughts:

1.  I would love for each of us to adopt one kid's (to start with) food and nutrition requirement for an year.  

2.  From a public school in our locality or closest home. 

3.  Just meet the parents and the school authorities and draw up a nutrition chart with the help of our family physician (or a nutritionist if you fancy).   

4.  Make no demands from either the child or the parents - except that she / he regularly attend school.  

5.  I would love to extend this a bit (life and means permitting) to food grains for the family.  Its cruel when families have to pull out performing students to find livelihood to augment family sustenance.

6.  Later, extension of medical subsidy would be great too.

The Government can play a crucial facilitator role in this - remember the infamous education cess we all pay as part of our Income Tax for a while now - its mandatory!  Ever cared to go through how much of it gets allocated where? I got lost.  I wish the Government will broad base this and encourage each of us to go local.  

Hope you find reason in what I hold forth.  Do let me know your suggestions for eliminating classroom hunger in India and the World. 

To start with, I am going to #BlogToFeedAChild with Akshaya Patra and BlogAdda.

Thank you BlogAdda for this opportunity - much appreciate & cherish your initiative. 

Cheers :)