“Pulao, Rice - sambar, curd rice, sweet pongal, bisibele bath, tomato rice…,” a bunch of children join six-year old Dimple as repeats the Akshaya Patra menu when asked what she eats for lunch at the school. They answer while she tries to stitch a button- an exercise given by her teacher to improve her hand-eye coordination.
In the same classroom, Bhavya is teaching her classmates to dance. With the help of gestures she ensures that they understand her instructions. Her auditory impairment seems to disappear to oblivion as she successfully puts up the two-minute dance sequence.
Akshaya Patra mid day meal programme special childrenHer classmates are as differently-abled as her. Many of the children are diagnosed with cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, behaviour disorders and autism. There are 180 students like Bhavya and Dimple at Aruna Chetana – a school for the differently-abled in Bangalore.
The children are given various training and therapies based on their needs, their abilities and interests. This includes sessions on sensory stimulation, auditory therapies, physiotherapy, behaviour management, etc. At 1:00 PM the children assemble to have their mid-day meal which is provided by The Akshaya Patra Foundation. Gayathri Panju, the principal of the school says, “For the last 10 years, Akshaya Patra has been helping us by providing nutritious mid-day meal. Children love the Rice - sambar. Many of the parents say that the children prefer the sambar given by the Foundation than what is cooked at home.”
Most children at the school come from lower socio-economic families. Gayathri says, “Ten years ago, we didn’t have any support system like Akshaya Patra to provide mid-day meals, so most children would just get plain-yellow-coloured rice sans vegetables. Today the food we get from Akshaya Patra is fresh and nutritious, and this has resulted in improvement in children’s health.” She explains that just like in the regular day schools, the mid-day meal programme has been the key reason for increase in attendance by about 40% in the school.
Many children at Aruna Chetana have participated in international sports meet for the differently-abled and have brought laurels. The trophies and medals in the principal’s room are a testimony to this success. A gold plated frame with a letter of appreciation from the Karnataka state government acknowledges Aruna Chetana as the oldest school in the state for the differently-abled.
Aruna Chetana believes that every child has the fundamental right of access to education. Hence few of the children who are trained are also integrated into regular schooling after grade 5. Many of them today have completed their schooling, few are even employed.
While Akshaya Patra’s mid-day meal nourishes these children to grow stronger, Aruna Chetana’s commitment helps them to harbour a very special dream.
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