Humanity survives through love, care, happiness, and selfless service to the world. These are exactly the fundamentals taught at the ISCKON foundation. The International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) believes in Bhagavad Gita’s ideologies, i.e., to serve the society without any corporeal desires. The desire should always be for people’s well-being and the environment, which will enable an individual to lead a happy and satisfying life. For the past two decades, the Akshaya Patra Foundation has been doing the same. They are striving to address classroom hunger and malnutrition in India, implementing the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme in Government and Government-aided schools. It was a great opportunity for Interview Times to had a great conversation with Shri Bharatarshabha Dasa, the Regional President of The Akshaya Patra Foundation, and got to know more about how the non-profit organization functions.
This is how the interview went-
Can you tell us about your journey at Akshaya Patra Foundation to our readers?
I joined the ISKCON movement in 1992 while doing my B Tech in Computer Science from REC Calicut. Since then, I have dedicated my life to the service of society. I am grateful for this opportunity to serve the children of our country through Akshaya Patra. I initially handled the public relations of Akshaya Patra in Bangalore from 2008 to 2014.
In the years following that, I served as the Director – Strategic Relations for the organization. Besides public relations and strategic outreach, I have also been involved in policy planning and implementation and program management. As the Regional President, I oversee the Foundation’s operations in Delhi NCR, Uttar Pradesh, and Uttarakhand. Besides implementing MDM Scheme, we have also been working with the Government and our donors to undertake food assistance in this region during various natural disasters and, more recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Can you brief us more about Akshaya Patra Foundation and its ongoing initiatives?
Akshaya Patra is a not-for-profit organization that strives to address classroom hunger and malnutrition in India, implementing the Mid-Day Meal (MDM) Scheme in Government and Government-aided schools. We aim to address hunger and, at the same time, bring children to school. As the implementing partner of the Government’s school feeding program, we serve over 1.8 million children in 51 locations across the country through our kitchens network.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we have utilized our kitchen infrastructure and resources to extend food relief to vulnerable communities. Working with the Government and donors, we have served over 107 million meals in multiple locations across 18 states and two union territories as of 7 December 2020.
These include nearly 60 million freshly cooked meals, 9.68 lakh food relief kits (amounting to over 40 million meal servings), and 3.67 lakh Happiness Boxes for MDM beneficiaries (over 7 million meal servings).
How difficult has it been to manage the needs of the children during the lockdown time?
With schools closed due to the pandemic, we are proactively working with the Government and donors to provide nutrition support to MDM beneficiaries by providing them Happiness Boxes. These boxes focus on nutrition, immunity, hygiene, and education, with their contents ranging from packets of glucose biscuits and ragi flour to dental kits and stationery with activity books.
Over 3.67 lakh Happiness Boxes have been distributed so far in Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Odisha, Rajasthan, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, and Dadra & Nagar Haveli.
Any plans for Akshaya Patra Foundation as now it has completed 20 years?
Akshaya Patra will continue working with the Government, corporate partners, and individual donors to ensure sustained access to food and nutrition to all through its endeavors. We are committed to serving children and communities and will always keep our beneficiaries central to all our efforts. We will also continue contributing to the nation’s pursuit of UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
According to you, what is the best lesson this pandemic has taught humanity?
This pandemic has brought forth the importance of coming together to serve society.
As with our COVID-19 relief efforts, it has been effectively demonstrated that public-private partnerships, bringing together the Government and private sector, can help maximize the impact of such efforts. This relief feeding endeavor has shown that people will proactively come forward and join hands to help those in need during difficult times. It has validated our belief that no matter how big the challenge is, if all of us who have access to necessary resources come together, we will scale it.