The Midday Meal at Kherla GMS
The Kherla Government Middle School (GMS) consists of 340 students and 9 teachers. The school operates from Monday to Saturday with breaks on alternate Saturdays. Just like other government schools, Kherla GMS offers midday meals to their students. With 42% of Indian children being underweight, Midday Meal Scheme (MDMS) was proposed by the government to enhance food security, nutrition and retention of children in primary schools. So far, studies have shown that the provision of midday meals has resulted in 50% reduction in the dropout rate of females at schools.
However, the Midday Meal Scheme is not always implemented properly. Poor hygiene practices have led to fatal cases of food poisoning. One such case was witnessed in Bihar in July 2013, where at least 23 students died after eating a meal which was contaminated with pesticide. Other issues plaguing the midday meal are the poor quality of food and the lack of infrastructure at the school’s kitchens.
In Kherla Government Middle School, the implementation of the midday meal is exceptional. The food is of good quality, the kitchen is kept in impeccable order, and hygiene is treated with utmost importance. We spoke to Miss Savita, Head-Mistress of the school, to find out what changes she has put in place and her reasons for doing so.
Speaking with the Head-Mistress
Miss Savita explained to us that they had expanded the menu to increase variety and nutrition. From the previous 6 type of ingredient, they are currently using 16 different types of ingredients. This gives the students of the school more variety, and better health benefits.
She also mentioned that while the state government gave them huge amounts of food, such as wheat, no proper storage facilities were provided. As a lack of proper storage would lead to contamination and pest infestation, she and her team took the initiative to purchase containers so that food can be kept in proper storing conditions. The funds, however, had to come out of their own pockets. In order to raise them, the team went to the community to ask for donations. The team raised enough money, and they also managed to buy plates for each student, on top of the 70 plates provided by the government.
Even with containers, there might still be a chance of worm infestation. As an additional precaution, Miss Savita ensures that her team adds in neem leaves which prevent insects from eating the ingredients.
Another major concern to Miss Savita is the level of hygiene practiced while preparing the food. She ensures that her cooks use lids, wash all items and place them in neat order. To ensure that the water is safe to drink, the drinking water is obtained via a filtration method which was demonstrated by a member of the cooking team.
Miss Savita said that the reason behind such thorough steps is that she hopes the standards of her school’s kitchen could match that of a family kitchen, where people exhibit good hygiene practices. She also wants the kids to be able to learn these good hygiene practices and bring these habits back to their own homes.
Speaking with the Cooks
The proper preparation of the food will not be possible without the cooperation of the cooks of the kitchen. When we visited the kitchen, we saw that it was kept both clean and organized. No food was left out in the open, and everything that had to be covered was.
The cooks told us that they recognized the importance of good hygiene practices as they know that it will affect the well-being of the students. Moreover, they eat the food themselves, and have children studying in the school who will be eating the food. This makes them even more committed to making sure the food is safe for consumption.
The Midday Meal
At 12 noon, it’s finally time for the midday meal. The students sit outside their classrooms in an organized manner. Each student has their own plate and their own spoon. The cook comes from the kitchen, carrying the meal for the day. Assisted by a teacher, she serves the food to each student, who eagerly and patiently waits for the food to come to them.
The students clearly enjoy the food, and they devour it with much gusto, laughing and chatting with their friends as they do so.
At the end of the meal, the students bring their plates to the washing point, where each of them has the responsibility of washing their own plates. After washing the plates, the students run off to play, their stomachs filled with warm and nutritious food.
For The Children
Purchasing plates and storage facilities, ensuring that the cooks have good hygiene practices and letting the students wash their own plates – these steps might be troublesome and may take an extra portion of effort (and funds) from Miss Savita, her team, and her cooks but she feels that it is all worth it.
Miss Savita shared with us that she simply wants the best for her students, who hold the key to the future. As the children happily run around the school and enjoy the remainder of their break, we can’t help but feel that she is going in the right direction.
All over Mewat, head-masters are putting into place innovative practices which are improving the education of the students in their school. Over the month of December, three interns from the SRF Foundation visited 7 of these schools to document the practices and to interview the head-masters.
With these reports, they seek to give recognition to these schools, and to share with the world little bits of progress that are being made, even in the most rural of places.