Happy students, happy school!
It was a brilliant morning at the Zilla Parishad High School in Patancheru as Syed Shabeer, the school’s assistant headmaster greeted us with a warm welcome. Through our exchanges of pleasantries, we started walking towards the school. A reverberation of young voices could be heard reciting poetry in a classroom across the school lawn. When the poetry faded, a burst of claps and the word 'Santosham' (Meaning happy in Telugu) resonated, as students claimed their happiness by calling the word loudly and continuously. "Students here are happy. Despite the many odds they faced, most of them are hard working," said Mr. Shabeer, after a brief introduction of the school.
Located near the fruit market in Patancheru, Medak district of Telangana, the school has 620 students. Most of the students come from humble backgrounds. "The families of the children are into daily labour and other labour-based works and farming. Some families are migrants from other states who have come here for better opportunities," said Mr. Shabeer.
When asked about the impact of Akshaya Patra’s mid-day meal, Mr. Shabeer said, "Food is an important factor for many students in this school. A child needs food to study and we ensure that every child in the school is fed well." Mr. Shabeer praised the efforts of Akshaya Patra for providing healthy mid-day meals to the schools across India. "Akshaya Patra is doing a great work of feeding these children in our school. For some it’s a blessing because they don’t eat food at home every day," added Mr. Shabeer.
As we continued our conversation, we heard voices whispering behind us. Those were of Sakshita and Sana. While both girls were smiling and having a candid moment, Mr Shabeer summoned them as one playfully pushed the other to be interviewed first. We talked to Sakshita, an 8th standard Akshaya Patra beneficiary, first. Sakshita's father is employed as a car driver, while her mother Ansujha is a housewife. Sakshita, a topper in her class, is fond of English and Mathematics. "I want to become a teacher and teach the rural children," she said. When Sakshita returns home she helps her mother with the daily chores. In her free time, she likes reading and playing games with her younger sister. When we conversed with Sakshita, we sensed an air of self-confidence which reflected her resilient nature. "I love the Akshaya Patra meals especially the Biryani (mixed rice dish) on Thursdays," she replied smiling when we asked if she is happy with the food.
Sana alike Sakshita aspires to teach, but as a lecturer in college. With a soft voice she told us that her father, Sarder is a tailor while her mother, Haseena is a housewife. She has two brothers and two sisters. She acknowledged her parent’s hard work to make ends meet. Determined to make an impact, Sana said,” I love to stand in front of a class and teach. It gives me confidence.” When Sana reaches home, she quickly completes her homework before she helps her mother with the daily odd jobs of the house.
As with Sakshita we asked Sana about the mid-day meal and she said, "I like the Dal (a curry prepared with lentils) served and the Biryani is delicious. I am grateful to Akshaya Patra for providing me with delicious mid-day meals."
Sakshita and Sana are both toppers in their class but the competition between them has not affected their friendship. Both students raised that fact that they need higher education to reach their aspirations. Both of them have much admiration for each other and pledged to remain close friends. Just like best friends, Sana and Sakshita jostled each other playfully as they ran a short race back to their classroom.