Category Archives: Good Samaritans

Selfless people, selfless acts

Amar Seva Sangam: Helping the Disabled Efficiently

By Mahesh Padmanabhan

This summer, I had the opportunity to visit the Amar Seva Sangam. It is an institution that cares deeply about physically and mentally challenged people in India and has the organizational and operational skills to really make a difference to their plight.

My parents had been contributing regularly to this institution – making donations (on my birthday and my sister’sAmar Seva 2 birthday) and getting it more exposure within the media.

I am usually very skeptical about the efficacy of an institution like this in India. With rampant corruption permeating almost every facet of Indian society and virtually no laws or programs in place to address the needs of disabled individuals, I was certain that it would be poorly run and its existence was merely a way to funnel money to its founders and investors.

I resolved to make a trip to Ayakudi, the headquarters of Amar Seva Sangam with a mixture of cynicism and curiosity. Ayakudi is a village beautifully nestled in the foothills of the Western Ghats. The Sangam itself is situated on the outskirts of this idylic village among the ubuiqutous wind farms strewn across the countryside.

I was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.

Even though the Sangam has grown organically, the tour of the facility made me realize that they had given some thought to planning the growth, resulting in easy access to all buildings within the facility. Wheelchair access sometimes resulted in shorter distances to other buildings.

The Sangam started off as a shed but due to the diligent work of its founders, support staff, donations and sponsorship, has decent facilities now for early childhood intervention, rehabilitation, schooling and vocational training.

Amar Seva 3I had the opportunity to talk to many teachers and administrative staff and I was impressed with their sense of purpose and their enthusiasm for their role and responsibilities. The entire network of people operating and participating in the Sangam felt like a well oiled machine. Many of the teachers and administrative staff come from nearby villages and more
importantly, are products of the Sangam.

The Sangam’s outreach program is equally impressive. Disability, especially in Indian villages, is akin to being a leper so village society shuns disabled individuals. A disabled family member is forced to stay away not just from society but from other family members. This isolation further exacerbates that individual’s psyche and does away with any notion of being a productive member of society.

The outreach program operates in over 600 surrounding villages and takes the hard road of door-to-door education and potentially getting disabled individuals back into the Sangam for rehabilitation and training so that they can make a positive impact to society. The program also has clear structure and guidance on establishing a self-sufficient group comprised of people from the village that can continue the process of education thereby allowing the outreach program to scale.

The Sangam was started as a rehabilitation and training center but has grown to include two things closer to my heart, integrated schooling and early childhood intervention.

Integrated schooling allows normal and disabled children to study and play together thereby increasing tolerance to and understanding of disability at an early age.

Early childhood intervention deals with getting disabled children into the Sangam at as early a stage as possible thereby mitigating the effects of age on self-sufficiency. This is especially true for mental retardation where detecting and starting the rehabilitation program as quickly as possible is critical to the well-being of the child and the child’s progression to

I left Ayakudi uplifted, humbled and determined that I would try my best to keep the Sangam running for years to come. The Sangam relies heavily on donations and sponsorships especially as they are trying to make serious inroads into early childhood intervention, education, continued rehabilation and training.

It is absolutely essential that we do our part in helping this well run institution continue its noble mission. Please check out or better yet visit the Sangam as a volunteer. Please donate as much or little as you can or get your company to participate in corporate sponsorship of this excellent institution.

Gifts for Moms, Smiles for Children

mother and childThe Akshaya Patra Foundation has launched Gifts For Moms, Smiles For Children, a Mother’s Day campaign that pays tribute to Mothers worldwide while helping to feed and educate children throughout India. Akshaya Patra is an organization with the vision that no child shall be deprived of education because of hunger. The campaign is a way for people to celebrate their Mother, Grandmother, Sister or Aunt by giving them a gift for Mother’s Day that actually gives back.

“The unfaltering love that a Mother invests into raising her children enhances a person’s life in a myriad of ways. The Gifts for Moms, Smiles for Children campaign is a great way for people to honor those Moms that have made an impact in their lives, by giving a gift with a real impact,” said Madhu Sridhar, President and CEO of Akshaya Patra. “Akshaya Patra’s mission of eradicating hunger and promoting education is based on the vision shared by all Mothers worldwide. $28 is a wonderful gift on behalf of a mother that a donor wishes to honor. A child somewhere will smile.”

Donors to the campaign contribute $28 to Akshaya Patra for each Mother they wish to honor.  Once someone has donated, they can either choose for Akshaya Patra to send an email about their gift to the Mother they are honoring, or they can print out a Mother’s Day letter from Akshaya Patra to place in a card. Akshaya Patra’s midday meal program feeds 1.2 million underserved children daily in 7,000 schools in eight states in India. It costs $28 to feed a child daily for the entire school year.  With an average government subsidy of 50 percent, $28 feeds two children.

For those who wish to purchase a different gift for their Mom while still giving back, they can do so by shopping through CafeGive, a website that brings together hundreds of online stores that donate part of their proceeds to charity. When someone makes a purchase through CafeGive, up to 20 percent of the purchase price is donated to Akshaya Patra by the vendor, at no cost to the consumer. Some of their vendors include Macys, Best Buy, 1-800-Flowers and See’s Candies.

To donate to Gifts for Moms, Smiles for Children, learn more about the One World Cuisine partnership or to shop through CafeGive, please visit

Akshaya Patra helps flood victims

akshaya-patra-floodThis past week, torrential rains in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh caused flooding, rendering hundreds of people homeless and thousands of others unable to travel or find food. The local governments approached Akshaya Patra and asked the organization to provide meals to displaced victims of the natural disaster.

Akshaya Patra answered the call to service in Bellary, Hubli, Hyderabad and surrounding areas, delivering meals for 57,000 people, despite poor road conditions and the heavy downpours. Akshaya Patra also provided an additional 42,000 packets of food to be airdropped by the Indian Air Force.

“We wish to make all the facilities of Akshaya Patra available to supplement the flood relief operations of the government,” said Madhu Pandit Das, Chairman of Akshaya Patra India. “In all these kitchens we have capacity to cook thousands of meals in a short time and we have volunteers available to distribute the food.  The government can count on us to provide these services for as long as they are needed.”

Akshay Patra is recognized in Washington

By Kathleen Cosgrove

akhsay-patraThe Congressional Hunger Center (CHC), a nonprofit anti-hunger training organization located in Washington, D.C., launched an exhibit last week featuring photographs of the Akshaya Patra Foundation, as well as other midday meal programs in Mali and Chile.  The exhibit is designed to help inform members of Congress, policy makers and other key opinion leaders on the success, magnitude and worth of school feeding programs around the world.
The photographs were taken along with in-depth interviews and site visits to Akshaya Patra kitchens and schools. The exhibit is part of a larger initiative to increase support for school feeding. According to the CHC, school feeding programs have been proven to not only alleviate childhood hunger, but also to promote educational opportunities for children, especially young girls. This photography exhibit is part of an effort to bring the voices of people who implement or are impacted by school feeding programs to those who are making program and policy decisions. The exhibit will travel to different venues and events throughout the country over the next year.
“It is an honor to be recognized by the Congressional Hunger Center for Akshaya Patra’s innovative solution to eradicating hunger while promoting access to education,” said Madhu Sridhar, Akshaya Patra USA’s President and CEO. “Akshaya Patra is a great example of what can be accomplished when the public sector, private sector and civic society collaborate– a cost effective, scalable solution with high quality service delivery. The program is a true global model of efficiency and ingenuity, built and designed to be easily replicated in other parts of the world.”

“The photo exhibit was extraordinarily powerful,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, (D-MA), co-chair of the Congressional Hunger Center.  “I’m proud that the House Hunger Caucus continues to educate members and staff about not only the reality of childhood hunger in the world, but also the incredible people and programs that are tackling the problem.”

Shop for Father's Day and help a child

onecause_logoThe Akshaya Patra Foundation, the world’s largest NGO-run midday meal program, recently partnered with OneCause, an online community aimed at socially conscious shoppers.

This is how it works: OneCause ties up with various popular merchants on one hand and with non profits on the other. When you sign up at OneCause, you can specify the charity you wish to support. After that, a portion of the money you spend on purchases at OneCause’s various partners goes to your favorite charity. Now Akshay Patra is one of those organizations supported by OneCause.

OneCause is partnered with hundreds of well-known merchants, including Amazon, Apple, Macys, Nordstrom, Target  and offers buyers special coupons and savings opportunities. Up to 20 percent of the total cost of each purchase goes directly to Akshaya Patra, at no extra cost to the consumer.

“This partnership comes at the perfect time, as people are starting to shop for Father’s Day and graduation gifts,” said Seema Joshi, Akshaya Patra’s Grassroots Development Director. “This is an easy way for people to help raise much needed funds for Akshaya Patra children.”

To learn more about this opportunity to support Akshaya Patra visit and get started today.

Gifts for mom, smiles for children

akshaypatra21The Akshaya Patra Foundation, the world’s largest NGO-run midday meal program, has launched Gifts For Moms, Smiles For Children, a Mother’s Day Campaign that pays tribute to Mothers worldwide.

“That veritable fount of love called Mother does not discriminate.  Putting food on the table is integral to a Mother’s spirit and she is opaque by choice, to whether the mouth that she seeks to feed belongs to her own offspring or someone else’s,” said Madhu Sridhar, president and CEO of Akshaya Patra. “Akshaya Patra’s mission of eradicating hunger and promoting education is based on the vision shared by all Mothers worldwide. Gifts For Moms, Smiles For Children wonderfully blends twin tasks of honoring that often-unsung heroine called Mother and pledging food for a child for an entire year.”

$28 is a wonderful gift on behalf of a mother that a donor wishes to honor. A child somewhere will smile!

It costs Akshaya Patra $28 to feed a child daily for the entire school year.  Donors to the campaign contribute $28 to Akshaya Patra for each Mother they wish to honor. In areas where the Indian government provides a subsidy, $28 can actually feed two children. Once someone has donated, they can either choose for Akshaya Patra to send an email about their gift to the Mother they are honoring, or they can print out a Mother’s Day letter from Akshaya Patra to place in a card.

For more information or to donate to Gifts for Moms, Smiles for Children, please visit

Akshaya Patra crosses the one million mark!

By Seema Joshi

children-eating-2Akshaya Patra, the “food for education” non-profit organization, reached its goal of feeding one million underprivileged children daily by 2010 on April 1, 2009. The organization increased the number of children served in Bhilai, Chhattisgarh and now feeds 1,008,518 children through 17 kitchens in seven states.

The world’s largest NGO-run midday meal program, Akshaya Patra is a public-private partnership that combines good management, innovative technology and smart engineering to deliver school lunch at a fraction of the cost of similar programs in other parts of the world.

“It is a victory for the deserving children. Their smiles will transform our lives too,” said Madhu Sridhar, Akshaya Patra USA’s president and CEO. “With strong social conscience, a passion combined with discipline, integrity and professionalism, the team – from those in the kitchens, to the supporters, to those in the board room and everyone in between – has brought us to this important milestone for Akshaya Patra.”

Upon reaching this landmark the organization has rededicated itself to a much larger goal. The organization’s next milestone is to serve 5 million children by 2020.

“One thing is certain from this experience,” said Madhu Pandit Das, the founder and chair of Akshaya Patra India. “Boundless compassion is waiting to explode into this world to lessen the suffering provided we involve more and more willing human hearts, minds and hands.”

The Akshaya Patra Foundation is a registered 501 (c)(3) organization in the United States. Tax ID # 01-0574950

Akshay Patra – Food for education

By Seema Joshi and others

akshaypatra2The Akshaya Patra Foundation is the world’s largest NGO-run midday meal program currently feeding close to one million underprivileged children daily in over 5,700 schools in seven states in India.  Akshaya Patra is a public-private partnership that combines good management, innovative technology and smart engineering to deliver school lunch at a fraction of the cost of similar programs in other parts of the world. It costs $28 to feed a child daily for the entire year.

For many of the children this is their only complete meal for the day. This gives them an incentive to come to school, stay in school and provides them with the necessary nutrients they need to develop their cognitive abilities to focus on learning.

akshaypatra3Through kitchens specially designed by engineers to leverage technology and sourcing its food stocks from local markets, Akshaya Patra is able to reduce costs associated with transportation and food spoilage while supporting the local economy. In a short time, the foundation has grown to become the largest, and certainly most innovative, school lunch program in the world. Akshaya Patra is a great example of what a non-profit organization can achieve– a cost effective, scalable solution with high quality service delivery.

Some highlights from their latest newsletter, which can be found here
–    The Agnihotri family in New Jersey organized a six-week yogaclass for nearby children, with each child donatingat least $28 to Akshaya Patra as a fee for attending the class. In addition to the yoga class, Agnihotri and his mother also showed an AkshayaPatra video to the students to illustrate the good work being done in India.
–    Akshaya Patra was recognized by the Limca Book of Records for being the world’s largest NGO-run midday meal program.
–    Akshaya Patra has also been awarded the 2008 India Business Leader Award for Social Enterprise of the Year from CNBC –TV in India.

There are also several local chapters of this organization in different states.  To see how you can get involved and support this noble cause, please contact

Doing a World of Good


Handicrafts in Kenya

Walking down the aisles of a department store, we barely spare a thought to where the cheap goods flooding the shelves come from. The term “sweatshops” is vaguely familiar, yet we don’t directly associate it with the neon t-shirt with the rocking logo that catches the eye. Desensitized to the plight of workers in developing countries slaving under near unbearable conditions, we blithely take the profusion of low-priced products for granted.

World of Good is a small organization with a big mission – to create awareness and change our attitudes towards fellow human beings who are being exploited many miles away. It attempts to shake us out of our apathetic world view not by being preachy, but by providing high-quality products that are produced ethically and fairly, with the artisan getting just compensation for his or her efforts and being able to work in humane work environments.

WOG is the creation of Priya Haji, a social entrepreneur who started creating social enterprises while still in high school. I spoke to Jagadha Sivan, who is the Director for product Design and Sourcing. “The idea is to promote “fair trade” goods without sacrificing the business element,” says Jagadha.  WOG is therefore a hybrid organization with both a profit and non-profit angle to it.

Weaving in Guatemala

Weaving in Guatemala

The non-profit side WOG: Development Organization focuses on fair wages, assistance to the artisan community and grant giving. The mission is to improve economic and social conditions for millions of artisans and their families living on less than $4 per day.  Among the many initiatives of this non-profit arm is the development of transparent fair trade practices and promotion of the same by craft companies.

The for-profit arm, called World of Good Inc, has a wholesale outlet for artisans and craftsmen from around the world. The company supplies to stores like Whole Foods and Borders as well as independent natural food stores and book stores. A collaboration with Ebay offers an online destination for their products as well.

Jagadha with artisans

Jagadha with artisans

“Our aim is to become a marketing channel for artisans and find a market for their goods in the US,” adds Jagadha who joined WOG after a long stint in the tech sector. A serendipitous trip to a remote village in Rajasthan to help a friend studying the marketing of small scale crafts made her feel she was missing out on something in her cubicled life. When she found World of Good, it seemed to mesh perfectly with her dream to put her business skills to use for social empowerment.

“World of Good is run just like any other retail business,” says Jagadha. It has received investor funding and relies on successful marketing and distribution to keep it afloat. “The anti-mass production has been slowly growing,” she adds. In these economic times, finding customers to pay the 10-20% premium on women’s accessories is harder but Jagadha insists that the primary motivation of the company is to raise awareness. “We put a product out where the customer does not have to compromise on quality, aesthetics and trends. At the same time the purchase has a social good component to it.”

For now WOG focuses on women’s clothing and accessories like bags, jewelry and dresses.  The products are available in limited quantities and change frequently. The World of Good store on Ebay is a must see for customers keen on unique products that directly benefit the producers, often impoverished villagers in countries like India, Bangladesh and Peru.

Jagadha Sivan will feature in a panel discussion in Narika’s South Asian Women’s Conference Rejuvenate:Mind, Body, Spirit.

Rejuvenate – Mind, Body and Spirit

narika-conference-flyer Bay Area non-profit Narika has been active in supporting victims of domestic violence in the Bay Area for several years (see our previous coverage here). After a few years acting as advocates for battered women, the volunteers at Narika found that there was a need to help such victims develop life skills and resources that would enable them to achieve not just emotional but financial independence so they could embark on their future with some degree of self confidence  – and so the SEED program was born.

“The objective is to extend the Narika brand,” says Shama Pagarkar, a long time Narika volunteer. “Our outreach needs to go beyond advocacy issues towards educating women. Also, despite being based in the Bay Area and serving the needs of the entire population, we don’t have much of a presence in the South Bay.”

To address these objectives, Narika is putting together an intriguing conference called  Rejuvenate: Mind Body Spirit on March 21st at the India Community Center in Milpitas. A distinguished panel of presenters has been invited to speak on wide range of subjects that affect our everyday lives. Speakers will provide information, share their own experiences and answer questions from guests.

“Our target audience is educated women,” adds Shama, who is also the chair of the conference planning committee. “The idea is to create a holistic base for women’s issues.”

The conference is divided into three sections. The first, titled “Apna Sapna Money Money”, talks about various aspects of personal finance. “Even educated women are very intimidated by finance,” says Sutapa, a Narika advocate and program manager for the SEED program. “They may be making handsome salaries but they are likely to hand it over to their husbands to manage.” The panel discussion in this section will focus on the basic terminology of finance, the mental blocks when dealing with money and will feature financial planner Saadia Ahmed and Christine Parlour, an associate professor of finance at the Haas School of Business at UC Berkeley.

The second section, termed “Dil Chahta Hai” talks about the opportunities women have to follow their bliss and get engaged in activities outside the rat race. Artist Tanya Momi, Jagadha Sivan from the World of Good and yours truly make up this panel and we will talk about what it feels like to be out of the rat race and doing what we love.

The third workshop, called “Sundar Hoon Aisi Mein“, touches on a facet of life that women ignore or take for granted while they are busy looking after their families – their own emotional, physical and sexual needs. Fitness trainer Shobha Reddy will join counselor Naheed Shaikh and sex education expert Catherine Toyooka to talk about how and why women should feel comfortable with their bodies and treat themselves with respect.

The conference ends with a talk by Fremont Councilwoman Anu Natarajan on encouraging women to give back to their community – whether via community service, volunteerism or pursuing a career in public service. She will talk about how women can have an impact in the communities where they live.

Rejuvenate – Mind, Body and Spirit is Narika’s first annual conference of its kind. It fills a much-neglected need for women to reach out and support each others’ endeavors while daring to explore their own needs and life goals. Tickets for the event are $15 and include breakfast, lunch and childcare ( for children 2-12 yrs). Tickets are available at or by calling Narika at 510 444 6068. Buy your tickets today.