Kids Who Love School Food
Chaudhary Charity School feeds the students, so that the kids would be able to focus on studying. School food also employs the neighborhood in a surprising way.
When we founded the school for poor girls in Agra India, we decided to offer them school food, so that they would be healthy and could focus on studying. Schools don't usually offer food, so our arrangement is quite exceptional. When the girls arrive to school in the morning, they are offered sweet Taj Mahal tea, which is brought by a scooter from a booth few kilometers away. The milk needed for the tea is brought by Bhuri Gautam, the youngest daughter of a family which lives nearby.
Bhuri is disabled. She moves really slowly, and doesn't speak; she only looks at people shyly. Bhuri is the 8th daughter of the family, and she is approximately 15 years old. She brings the milk, but also carries bricks in nearby construction sites. The milk Bhuri brings is poured from the milk can to another container, and then Bhuri leaves just as quietly as she came. Our school cook Priiti then prepares the tea in a little kitchen located in a house across the yard, where all the food is prepared.
After the morning tea schoolwork goes along well. When the school day is almost over, around 11.30 or 12:30, Priiti brings food to the kitchen located next to the classroom.
Food is always vegetarian, because the students are from Hindu or Muslim families. Poor people only eat vegetarian food, because that's all they can afford - sometimes not even that. Religions also bring restrictions.
The school has a specific menu, from which a special dish is chosen every day. Vegetables and fruits are always bought from a local market or street vendors, who move by bike and scream loudly to announce their arrival. In the market the vendors often jump in with their vegetables to rest their feet.
Base of the school food is rice of course. The rice offered to kids is either basmati or jasmine. The rice is ordered from a rice wholesale store couple of kilometers away. From there, the rice is delivered in a plastic bag by a rickshaw to the school kitchen. Foods are prepared in a pressure cooker on a gas stove. Before Priiti takes the food to the school, a representative for Chaudhary Welfare Society, Shrimati Pritpal, tastes the food to make sure is good.
In the school, the food is served on thali-plates, which have a different spots for different foods. The plate is filled with chapti-bread, rice, vegetables, lentil soup and fresh salad. Yoghurt is placed in its own little plate next to the thali. For drink, there is traditionally fresh water. On Saturdays the kids receive fruits; bananas are their favorite.
Before dining kids wash their hands. Teacher Seema eats at her own desk in front of the class; this way she can demonstrate the proper way to eat to the girls. Priiti watches the kids eat, and offers them more bread and food if they want to. When the school first started, the kids ate tremendous amounts of food, but slowly the need of food has normalized. When everyone has eaten, kids thank for the food out loud. Then Seema gives them permission to go wash their hands, and after that the students are ready to go home with rickshaws.
School food has an amazing effect on the kids’ wellbeing. When our school started at July 5th, 2001, the kids looked weak and malnourished. Just few months later they looked much healthier. And every one of the girls thinks that the school food is really good every day.