Nourishing Schools in India

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Ashoka and Swiss Re Foundation are partnering with schools to enable children to improve their own nutrition and that of their communities in India. In 2011 Ashoka and the Swiss Re Foundation started their journey on exploring how to improve the health status in India. An intense explorative phase including a comprehensive baseline study, the knowledge and insights of Ashoka Fellows and various stakeholders as well as inputs and support of Swiss Re Management has identified a gap and the need to focus in the field of nutrition.

The challenges

Almost four in ten children under the age of five in India is undernourished [1] . Among adults, 36 percent of women and 34 percent of men are undernourished. The nutritional status of adults is linked to that of children. For instance, children whose mothers are undernourished are more likely to be undernourished than children with well-nourished mothers. Schools have been identified as key entry points for improving nutrition.

The approach

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While it is important to focus on pregnant women and infants when targeting malnutrition (59% of pregnant women in India are anemic), it is also critical to target school children in their pre-adolescent and early adolescent years. These years offer a key window for shaping their lifetime habits, which have an impact on their health. In keeping with Ashoka's Everyone a ChangemakerTM approach, the program is aiming to cultivate in children changemaking abilities. They will be able to improve their own nutrition and the nutrition of their families. Children who suffer from undernourishment lack nutritious food and also knowledge about food. As they grow, their poor food habits are reinforced, carried into adulthood, and passed on to their children. By the time these children grow to become parents, they have accumulated a lifetime of poor nutritional habits and traditional practices that are difficult to unlearn. By transforming children from passive participants to active advocates in their own and their families’ nutrition, Nourishing Schools prevents the vicious cycle of undernutrition from reinforcing itself, generation after generation. Years from now, when they become parents, they will also be better at nourishing their children.

What do we do concretely?

Nourishing Schools partners with organizations that have a network of schools, organizations working in agriculture as well as the government to target school children aged between 9 and 14 through their academic curriculum and community activities. This is done in the following ways:

  • We teach them about nutrients, how to cook food optimally, and a range of topics that can help them make more informed choices.
  • To show rather than tell, we conduct activities that include tending to a school garden, association games, and storytelling, to name a few.
  • We partner with mid-day meal programs to improve the nutritional value of food served in schools.
  • We encourage community participation through farmer groups, by communicating to change unhealthy food habits, and collaborating to restore positive ones.

The core of the program are the Nourishing Schools toolkits which are given to the schools and comprise different complementing media and teaching aids such as games, comics and academic curriculum on nutrition for a holistic approach. Read more here. The launch of the program has been a great success. Together with Ashoka fellows’ organizations Lend-a-Hand India and Farm2Food Foundation, Ashoka India has rolled out the program in two states so far – Maharashtra and Assam - reaching currently more than 40 schools and nearly 16000 children. Ashoka India also plans to expand to the state of Rajasthan, with partner organizations such as The Global Education & Leadership Foundation. The government of Rajasthan has invited Ashoka India to roll out Nourishing Schools in over 1400 schools in the state.  We are aiming to reach a total of 100 schools by early 2017. The results will be monitored, evaluated and shared.


 [1]The latest India-wide report from the government isn’t out yet. They have started releasing data for certain states but not overall. Quoting the The India Health Report on Nutrition 2015 here.

This article was originally published on August 2, 2016
Related TopicsChildren & Youth, Child care, Education / Learning, Development & Prosperity, Adult education, Capacity building, Food security, Poverty alleviation, Health & Fitness, Health care, Health education, Sanitation, Every Child Practicing Empathy

Susanne Wittig

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