It is Children’s Day today. A day when we celebrate our bundles of joy. A day that they enjoy spending in school as they get a break from uniforms and classwork. Spent in fun, festivity and pampering, the children look forward to going to school today. My children are also curious as to how we would celebrate their special day at home. Sometimes I cook them something elaborate and at other times we enjoy a meal in a fancy restaurant. Amid all this happiness is the other side of the coin, the millions of children in India who don’t get to eat three square meals in a day. Many of them don’t attend school because they have to work to run their families. Some of them get just one meal a day and go hungry on a regular basis. Many others who venture into the classrooms are dull and unable to concentrate on their curriculum as their tiny, malnourished bodies cry for food.
Is there no guardian angel for them? Do they not deserve the basic right to food and education?
Yes, it is true. Hunger kills! It is the most deadly disease on the face of this earth. And the developing countries in Asia and Africa face its maximum wrath.
One in every six children in Asia is underweight.
66 million people attend schools on an empty stomach!
Considering these statistics, it is a national crisis to keep our children in schools. Remember, it also protects them from predators and keeps them safe while their parents go out to work.
Let us see what measures can help keep poor children in school:
Food: As most poor kids are undernourished, hunger is something that they deal with on a day-to-day basis. Keeping this in mind, the government started its Mid-Day meal (MDM) program in government-run and aided schools in 1995. Before that a few states in India were doing the same on their own resources. The MDM program is revolutionary. It has helped keep children in school and provide them a nutritious meal. In this effort, they are being supported by NGOS like Akshaya Patra Foundation which reaches 1.4 million children across India by its own initiative. I contribute to them regularly.
Here are some issues that the government’s MDM program needs to work on:
- Breakfast for children: Children stay hungry and are unable to concentrate on their studies as they most often come to school without breakfast. Something like an egg and banana or milk with biscuits will go a long way in staving off hunger till lunch time.
- Hygiene: It is important that MDMs be prepared in hygienic conditions. We have seen too many cases of children falling sick after eating food that was contaminated with germs or external agents.
- Nutritionally balanced food: MDMs specify minimum nutritional requirements. They must be adhered to for ensuring that the kids get a meal that takes care of their required nutritional needs.
An AC Nielsen study conducted in 2007 has shown that this Mid-day meal scheme has increased school attendance of children. Well-balanced hot meals are tackling the issue of malnourishment in Indian children. Children are also found to have better energy and increased focus leading to a better performance in classroom helping them continue with their education. But more needs to be done. And this program needs to be taken to every nook and corner of the country.
While free food is a big attraction to pull kids back into schools, the issue of toilets especially for girl children is a major concern. Only 1 in 6 rural schools in India have toilets. This causes the girl children to drop out from school.
Let us all endeavor on this Children’s Day to eliminate hunger in classrooms for our children. The government and the NGOs need our help to attain this mission. In just Rs. 750, you can feed one child for a year. It is even less than what we spend at a meal outside. So donate generously.
The only hunger that is desirable is to see our children hunger for education and for achievement.
Let them eat well to think and grow to their potential!