“As a student at IIT, he once came close to committing suicide. Then, he discovered Krishna and embraced the spiritual path. As head of ISKCON Bangalore, he founded Akshaya Patra-A movement which combines a missionary zeal and modern management, to feed one million hungry children every day.”
That one man whose initiative, it was to feed one million hungry children is none other than Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa. Born in Nagercoil, but grew up in Bangalore, he went on to do his B. Tech in Civil Engineering from IIT-Mumbai in the year 1980. When here, he came across books of Srila Prabupada and got inspired to practice Krishna Consciousness. In 1983, he became involved in overseeing the activities of ISKCON, Bangalore and was also responsible for the activities of the Trivandrum temple as president.
HOW IT BEGAN AT THE AKSHAYA PATRA FOUNDATION
The Akshaya Patra Foundation came into being in the year 2000. A one-man initiative, it started with feeding 1,500 school children in Bangalore and has expanded to feeding over 1.5 million children over 15 years.
Looking out of a window one day in Mayapur, a village near Calcutta, he saw a group of children fighting with street dogs over scraps of food. From this simple, yet heart breaking incident, came the determination that: No one within a ten-mile radius of any of the ISKCON temples should go hungry. Little knowing that these were just baby steps towards a bigger goal, ISKCON temples started providing food to hungry children.
As this process continued regularly, children started coming to the temple on their own, before lunch time. On speaking to some of these children one day, Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa learnt that these kids either didn’t go to school or were leaving early in order to make it to the temple for lunch. That’s when he thought of sending food to the schools themselves. And before he really realized it, thanks to his efforts, 1,500 children in schools across Bangalore were receiving lunch from the ISKCON temple every school day.
He only realized the importance of what he was doing when teachers and principals from other schools wrote in, asking ISKCON to feed children at their school too. Applications from a few lakh schools in Bangalore came in, to start the programme at their schools! A disguised compliment was that kids from non-ISKCON supported schools were leaving to join schools benefitting from the temple’s food programme. Hunger was clearly an urgent issue that needed to be addressed!
Feeding children at over a lakh schools required operations that could not be managed from within the temple premises itself. So how could the operations be scaled up? He discussed the idea with prominent personalities whom he was in touch with through the activities of the temple. People like Mr. Mohandas Pai and Mr. Narayan and Sudha Murthy, amongst others. Thanks to their collective efforts, in 2000, The Akshaya Patra Foundation was officially born.
With a large portion of the seed funding coming in from Infosys Mr. Narayan and Sudha Murthy, and Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa’s engineering background, the organisation was able to set up state-of-the art kitchens. Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa himself is the brain behind the design of the first centralized & mechanized kitchen.
Providing a meal to children a day may not sound like a very ambitious mission. But the implications are truly massive. In doing so, the organisation addresses two of the most immediate challenges of India – hunger and education. By providing unlimited, wholesome food, they attract children to schools, retain them and then focus on their holistic development.
In 2010, IIT Mumbai honoured Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa with their distinguished alumnus award for his contribution to humanitarian service and was honored with the Padma Shri award by the Government of India on the eve of the nation’s 67th Republic Day.
The organization has emerged as one of the most effective NGOs striving to eliminate hunger and poverty in the country. It looks forward to reach around 5 million children by the year 2020. Various scientific researches and studies conducted by the renowned research organizations like A. C Nielson and Sigma highlight the positive impact of mid-day meal programmes by Akshaya Patra.
Sri Madhu Pandit Dasa has changed not just the lives of a million children, but the character of the temple.If more temples worried about that, God would rest in his Heaven. And all would be right with this world.
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