Lunch break for Mumbai students

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On several occasions, ­Deepali, a Class 3 student at ­Saraswati Vidya Mandir in Mumbai, was caught staring at the clock. “She would look at the clock so attentively that she would hardly hear me call her name,” says Sweety Singh, her class teacher. When asked to concentrate on the lesson being taught, Deepali would look into her book; but once the teacher turned around, “she would continue gazing at the clock!”

“My mother gives me only one piece of pav (bread) for breakfast. I look at the clock to see if it’s time for lunch so I can go eat as much as I want,” says Deepali. “There are many students who don’t even get to eat breakfast because they come from very poor families,” says Sweety and adds that the midday meal provided by RC Mumbai Western Elite, RID 3141, is “the only meal these children eat full stomach. There is no restriction, the children can ask for as many servings as they want.”

What started as a project to provide midday meals at a single private school by the club in 2016–17, has expanded to four schools with 450 students being fed every day. The project cost for providing meals for all four schools is ₹23 lakh annually and the funds are raised by the club. “We have a few other donors who give generously but club members are the main source of funds for this project,” says club president Pankaj Jaiswal.

Club president Pankaj Jaiswal feeds a student as project coordinators Sachin Patodia and Devki Nandan Agarwal look on.
Club president Pankaj Jaiswal feeds a student as project coordinators Sachin Patodia and Devki Nandan Agarwal look on.

In August 2016, when Sandeep Saraf, the then-club president, visited Santhosh Nagar Primary School to assess the needs of the school, “I wondered how any child could study there. The lane that led to the school was across a ditch and the campus was in a pathetic condition,” he recalls. The club provided basic infrastructure and asked the principal what else was required. Being a private school there was no provision for the midday meal programme so “we decided to provide the meals for a year.”

At the project inaugural, club members witnessed the children enjoying their meals. “They relished every bite and were excited to be eating garam garam khana (hot food)! We were touched by the joy on the faces of these children and we decided to continue this initiative,” says Saraf.

While going through research material for finalising this project, he came across a study, titled ‘Intergenerational nutrition advantages of India’s National School Feeding Programme’ published in the journal Nature ­Communications. The study, using national representative data on mothers and their children from 1993 to 2016, examined if midday meals help intergenerational increases in a child’s linear development. It was discovered that girls who received midday meals in elementary schools had healthier children. “When you look at the bigger picture, this feeding programme benefits the physical, mental, and psychosocial development of school children across the country. We are not just alleviating classroom hunger, and ensuring that these children grow up in a healthy environment, but we are also building a bright future for them, especially girls,” he says.

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The club later identified three other schools — Saraswati Vidya Mandir, Students Academy and Srimati ­Ashabai Ware Primary School in Goregaon East, to extend the project. “We were informed by the school authorities that because of the midday meal the student strength and attendance have increased. We are looking forward to expanding the project further,” says Jaiswal. “This initiative is not limited to collecting the funds and paying the vendors for the food. We visit the school, check the quality of the food, and collect student and teacher feedback on the meal.”

The new menu includes noodles, pav bhaji, biryani, and bhaji roti. Aarav, a Class 3 student from Srimati Ashabai School, says, “On Tuesday we had noodles for lunch and that has become my favourite. I have asked my teacher to let me take some for my mother the next time. I want her to try it too.”

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