Food for Thought by Meeta Chaitanya: Uma’s Story
Uma Maheshwari is just 11. Already, she dreams of becoming a scientist-teacher working on new experiments every day. Not one to dream merely, recently Uma participated in a District Level Science Festival, proudly representing her school and vividly coloring her aspirations.
An everyday rhythm for her counterparts in many other homes in India and across the Diaspora landscape, this is a privilege that would have remained a dream without wings or roots – had it not been for her school, her teacher and her food.
The experiment that worked for her and others like her is The Akshaya Patra mid-day meal program offered at the Government Higher Primary School, Ingalagi in Bellary, Karnataka.
The significance of the meal program is not lost on the child. Not only does Uma go to school; being the eldest sibling at home, she responsibly ascertains that her two younger siblings get ready and attend school every day along with her. Even as her budding dream takes flight, she wants her younger sister, who is in (Grade IV) and younger brother (Grade VI) to make use of all the opportunities available to them at the school because of the mid-day meal program. Uma realizes that due to her regular intake of holistic meals at school, she and her peers are able to concentrate better and build both, strength and confidence to compete.
Initially buoyed by The Akshaya Patra mid-day meal program, the nascent scientist says she wants to continue with teaching when she grows up and wants to help other children like her follow their dreams, "Science is my favorite subject since it has a lot of experiments. When I grow up, I want to become a teacher and help students understand subjects just the way my teacher helps me. I love to do experiments. I had not realized this since I started doing them myself at school. Moreover, ever since I started eating the food provided by Akshaya Patra, I feel healthy and am able to memorize difficult concepts with ease," says Uma.
This is a claim that is readily endorsed by Uma’s teacher, Kanyakumari who insists that the provision of the mid-day meals the since 2007 has led to vast leaps of academic improvement in the students’ concentration and competence levels. As for Uma, “earlier she had stage fright due to which she would find difficulty in expressing herself. But now, her concentration and grasping power has increased significantly" says she.
A significant foray for Akshaya Patra, the Bellary kitchen is the fifth unit of The Foundation in Karnataka. It was set up in July 2006. An ISO 22000:2005 certified culinary unit, this kitchen feeds 1,15,945 government school children as of today. Uma is one of them.
This could have been another everyday story – one where her parents worked at a farm situated 20 km from her house (a fact) and she and her siblings dwindled time away without food, without education, without play, without science, without competitions. Instead, Uma is growing up on more than just healthy food. Thriving among education, books and nutrition, Uma and other children at the Primary School are poised for many more experiments - some may see the light of day; but all will benefit their foundational progress.