Breaking the poverty cycle: Why Solo Expenses is supporting the world’s largest school lunch programme

When children don’t eat, they don’t learn. Solo Expenses is helping a major lunchtime meal project in India to change all that, but in a special twist the Indian charity is expanding to the UK, where a similar problem exists…

Solo Expenses has thrown its weight behind the world’s largest NGO-run midday meal programme, serving school lunches to 1.76 million children who would otherwise go hungry.

It’s the Akshaya Patra Foundation, and although the organisation as created in India, it is expanding to the UK to meet a specific need here too.

Solo Expenses has proudly pledged to sponsor 2 schools and provide lunches for over 300 children every year, and company co-founder Sunita Nigam visited one of the Indian girls’ school that’s being supported by the charity.

The tragedy of hunger
She’s seen first-hand the value of the donation, and says: “Firstly, it’s a tragedy that children don’t attend school as often as they should, and are hungry when they do go, because it means they can’t learn as well as they might, And secondly, it’s a real eye-opener to see the huge difference a relatively tiny amount of money can make to the life of a child. Who knows what these children could be as adults? By giving them a decent lunch every school day we could be supporting them into careers as doctors, lawyers, scientists or successful business people.”

Solo Expenses thought it important to help a girls’ school, since girls are already disadvantaged in education. “Being hungry just makes that imbalance even worse,” said Sunita.

The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation with its HQ in Bengaluru, India. Formed in 2000, its objective is to eliminate classroom hunger, counter malnutrition, and supporting the right to education of socio-economically disadvantaged children. Today it provides meals in 12 Indian states from 38 of its own kitchens.

Like a military operation
The numbers involved are significant – dahl is cooked in cauldrons with a capacity of up to 3,000 litres; rice in batches of at least 500 litres; and machines can make up to 200,000 rotis from six tonnes of flour.

Standards are high; Akshaya Patra uses disciplines and methods well known in the west, such as Six Sigma and ISO standards, and its delivery vehicles are increasingly monitored using GPS.

Sunita said: “It’s run like a highly-efficient military operation, which helps to keep the standards high – but it couldn’t really be run in any other way, because without the best systems it wouldn’t be possible to serve so many meals on every school day.”

Addressing a UK need
But the work of Akshaya Patra isn’t confined to India. Says Sunita: “The problem faced by Indian children isn’t unique to India. There is a need for this kind of support in the UK, which Akshaya Patra is working towards addressing by supporting breakfast and holiday clubs through new collaborative partnerships.”

A simple objective
Says the Akshaya Patra web site: “Through our Mid-Day Meal Programme, our attempt is to feed the millions of children in India who lack the means, but, have the zeal to learn and achieve.

“By feeding them one wholesome meal a day, we give them the nourishment and motivation they need to pursue an education for a better future. It is our endeavour to reach out to every child at the grass root level of the society.”