When Gyansanvardhini School in Satara, Maharashtra learnt that its students were often eating unhealthy snacks that they bought from outside the campus, the institution took steps to open a canteen on its premises, so that the kids could buy and eat healthy snacks at an affordable price.
When we from Ashoka, in partnership with Lend-A-Hand India, met the school headmaster last year, he told us that he was aware that many children were undernourished but wasn’t sure how he could address the problem. We proposed conducting a survey of children between nine and 14 years to assess the current situation, and he readily obliged.
The baseline survey resulted in surprising findings, such as that nearly 40 percent of the surveyed school children were anaemic. Almost 80 percent of school children were eating snacks outside the school at least once a week, which wasn’t helping improve the situation. These findings were shared with the school headmaster, teachers and parents at a meeting held in the school.
“Frequent junk food consumption in our village? We thought this was a city problem,” commented teachers. Some parents admitted that as they had to leave for work early in the mornings and since they had little time to prepare meals, they had been giving children some money for buying snacks. They requested the teachers for solutions to this problem.
Vandana P., the home and health teacher at the school suggested setting up a canteen. It would serve nutritious and tasty snacks at affordable prices, prepared by children in the ‘Home and Health’ class from Classes VIII, IX and X. As the children were only free to buy snacks during their break or at the end of the school day, she would open and run the canteen only during these times. The students could also help her serve snacks and give her ideas on which snacks would be more popular.
The school management loved the idea and approached a local bank for a loan. The bank agreed and a few months later the canteen was set up. Children started regularly buying healthy snacks and learning how to run a canteen as an entrepreneurial initiative.
It was inspiring to see how a school that could understand its problems took a small step towards solving them. A few months after that, we launched our Nourishing Schools toolkit in the school, which supplemented the school’s efforts through resources for addressing other nutrition-related issues in the schools, such as improving children’s awareness of nutritious foods through games and guides for making their own soap etc. The baseline survey and the toolkit were rolled out in 13 other schools in Maharashtra as well.
When children take charge of tackling the challenges faced by them and their peers, be it the heavy weight of their schools bags or water conservation, they are able to identify quick solutions as well as develop strategies to change long-term behaviours. As Ashoka’s Lead Young campaign points out, the experience of practising changemaking in one’s teens increases the likelihood of becoming a successful adult and inculcates the skills of teamwork, creative problem solving and empathy.
According to the government’s 2012-13 District Level Household and Facility Survey (DLHS), 30 percent of children below five years are moderately stunted (low height for age) and 58 percent of adolescents between 15 and 19 years have anaemia in Maharashtra. Data at the district level combined with data from schools can become a powerful catalyst for involving stakeholders.
Sunanda Mane, Co-founder of Lend-A-Hand India, also an Ashoka Fellow, believes that sharing the overall results of the baseline survey through sessions held in the schools helped the children become changemakers in the community. Some of these schools shared their experience of addressing undernutrition as well, captured in this video.
”A lot of mothers came to such meetings in the schools and there were discussions on what they can do for their children,” she shares.