By Sraddhadevi dasi
Friday, March 3rd marked the final day of the 2011 Annual General Meeting (AGM) for the Governing Body Commission (GBC) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Along with discussing sannyasa candidates, the day involved a presentation on the Midday Meal project in India and a special visit by the students of the Sri Mayapur International School.
Radha Krishna dasa traveled all of the way to Mayapur from the Radha-Gopinath temple in Mumbai to present the outstanding achievements of the Midday Meal project. The Midday Meal project, implemented by ISKCONâ€™s Food Relief Foundation, strives to alleviate two major issues that thousands of Indian children faceâ€”hunger and a lack of education.
Although education is compulsory for children between the ages of six and fourteen according to the Indian government, the reality is that many underprivileged children within that age group still do not attend school. The reason is that a large socio-economic stratum of the population feels that their children should spend their day earning money for their family instead of gaining a formal education. To counteract the situation, the Government of India established lunch programs in all public schools so that any child who attends school receives at least one hot meal a day. The result has been successful. Because of the free meal, many families living in poverty now opt to send their children to school, rather than to work. Simply put, the school lunches decrease the financial needs of the family in terms of feeding their children. It is, however, a challenge to cook, deliver, and serve meals to the hundreds of thousands of children every day in schools across India.
The Midday Meal project is markedly successful in meeting this challenge. Inspired by Srila Prabhupadaâ€™s desire that â€śNo one within a ten-mile radius of an ISKCON Centre should go hungry,â€ť members of ISKCON, such as Radha Krishna dasa, formed to specifically address the need for children to receive a healthy and nutritious meal while also receiving an education.
In 2004, the first lunches provided by Midday Meal were served. Within six months of operation, over one million meals were distributed to schoolchildren in various parts of India. Over the years, the project has considerably grown in scope and reputation. Today, over 850,000 children are fed from eighteen centers in eight states per day. Such distribution adds up to 255 tons of food per day and 355 plates of lunch served every minute. Moreover, all meals are cooked in kitchens with a notably high standard of cleanliness certified by American Systems Registrar (ASR).
In addition to helping thousands of children in India receive on a daily basis the nutrition and education they need, the Midday Meal project has greatly developed ISKCONâ€™s relationship with the Government of India. Government officials are impressed and thankful for ISKCONâ€™s service, and consider the Midday Meal project an exemplary program for feeding the schoolchildren of India. In reciprocation, the Government has eliminated all road tax associated with the Midday Meal delivery trucks and has allowed all donations to ISKCONâ€™s Food Relief Foundation to be tax exempt. If you would like to help support or learn more about the Midday Meal project, please visit www.middaymeal.com.
Following the Midday Meal presentation, GBC members warmly welcomed a visit from more than thirty students of Sri Mayapur International School (SMIS). The Sri Mayapur International School provides a rich devotional atmosphere for students from around the world to study and cultivate Krishna consciousness and receive an internationally recognized and certified standard of education. Grade levels range from primary to high school, and SMIS provides both day school and boarding options.
After an introduction and upon invitation, students raced to sit in the seats surrounding the GBC conference room table. A microphone was passed around the table for all of the students to introduce themselves by name and where they are from. The number of countries represented was impressive. At the end of this special event, all of the SMIS students were served slices of cheesecake on behalf of the GBC. For more information on the Sri Mayapur International School, please visit www.mayapurschool.com.
The 2011 AGM concluded after twelve full days of meetings, four of which were spent specifically on strategic planning. A range of topics were presented and discussedâ€”from updates on the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium construction to ways in which we can better care for ISKCONâ€™s current members, to cultivating and training future ISKCON leaders. GBC committees will continue to work diligently throughout the year, and next October the GBC body will meet again in Juhu, Mumbai.