Giving Indian School Children a Chance to Lead Healthy Lives: Leena Joseph’s story
For Leena Joseph fighting malnutrition in India means giving school children the chance of receiving at least one nutritious meal a day. Leena manages the Government of India’s Midday Meal Programme on behalf of the Indian non-governmental organization (NGO) Naandi Foundation, a GAIN implementing partner. The government-supported initiative provides hot cooked meals to one million school children in government schools daily.
Mrs. Joseph started with Naandi Foundation as a volunteer focusing on health and education programs. Before this she volunteered in orphanages working with children affected by HIV/AIDS. “I’ve always enjoyed working with children and cooking for many people at a time,” she tells GAIN.
GAIN supports the NGO to fortify wheat and lentil-based meals (chapatis, lentils used in curries) provided through the government program and to monitor the quality and quantity of vitamins and minerals added. GAIN support is enabling one million children 5 to 12 years old in government schools in the Indian states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh to benefit from the fortified meals.
“Our model of school feeding is sustainable because the government has made providing the meals mandatory,” explains Mrs. Joseph. “The centralized organization also makes it easier for the government to monitor the quality of the food in one place rather than having to visit many schools in one state,” she adds.
Mrs. Joseph starts her day at 4am when kitchen activities start. A typical day involves coordinating the preparation, transport and delivery of meals to schools that are part of the program and travelling to less accessible rural areas where children are hungry and malnourished. “One of the challenges we face is reaching out to remote rural areas where you have to walk across forests and streams to get to people,” she emphasizes.
However, the mother of two teenagers has much to be proud of – her program’s reach has doubled from 500,000 children per day in 2005 to one million children in 2009. “It motivates me when I visit schools and see children with smiles on their faces because their stomachs are full and they have had at least one nutritious meal per day,” she says, a large smile lighting up her face. “If we all work together we can eradicate malnutrition - it’s not a dream, it’s doable,” she adds passionately.