Dare Child Nutrition Director Joins School Nutrition Delegation to India
In November, at her own expense, Carol Sykes, Child Nutrition Director for Dare County Schools visited India as part of a school nutrition delegation. School nutrition professionals from across the United States traveled to three cities in northern India to participate in professional exchanges on school meals. The ten-day visit included Deli, Jaipur and Agra.
The trip was coordinated by People to People in cooperation with the School Nutrition Association (SNA). SNA works to promote school feeding throughout the globe. SNA's Global Child Nutrition Foundation assists countries worldwide to develop school feeding programs that are tailored to meet their unique circumstances, and offers professional resources such as networking opportunities, forums, and conferences to help countries meet the nutritional needs of their children. Sykes noted that in many third world countries meals at school have prompted families to send their children to school, including girls, who may otherwise not attend school.
In India the school lunch is known as the mid day meal. "Most of the feeding programs are private-public partnerships," Sykes explained. "The government provides approximately five to six cents per child per lunch which typically pays only for the meals mainstay of flour, rice or lentils. Community and organizational funding may enhance the meals with additional foods, such as a vegetable. Students provide a metal plate from home to receive their meals; no beverages are served."
Schools visited in Deli and Jaipur offered meals prepared in large central kitchens that were transported to schools for service on a fleet of vans. In Jaipur Sykes' group toured a large production kitchen, run by Akshay Patra Foundation. While at the facility, she gave a presentation on Challenges facing school meal programs in the United States. The Indian hosts observed that in comparison their school feeding operations are simpler - in India all children are fed at no cost to their families, and only one meal choice is offered. There is minimal government regulation. The visitors observed meals in three schools, and at one site shared the lentil curry, rice and flat bread offering for the day.
Sykes and her colleagues also met with representatives from Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), an organization that develops basic fortified foods with added nutrients. The Nutrition Foundation provided a presentation on nutritional needs in India. An exchange took place at Fortis Hospital with a research team conducting nutrition education for students and mothers targeted to change behavior to decrease a growing trend of obesity and diabetes.
One highlight of the trip for Sykes was an evening at the home of a couple, both doctors, who invited the delegation for dinner.
"The décor was simple but elegant with elements of nature apparent in each room," recalls Sykes. "A lovely evening meal was served on the lawn. Beautiful outdoor lighting provided atmosphere. Tables were interspersed with fire pits for warmth in the evening air. A cooking demonstration concluded the dinner. The hostess has been recognized by the local government for adopting 21 HIV positive children and providing for them in a group home."
Cultural outings included tours of Gandhi's tomb in Delhi, "old Delhi," India Gate, Parliament buildings, Red Fort, and the tombs of Jama Masjid and Humayun. In Jaipur they visited Amber Fort, the Jantar Mantar Astronomical Observatory, the Palace of Winds and City Palace. In Agra, a sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal marked the conclusion of their trip.
Sykes says her personal observation is that while India is an aspiring nation, it is marked by severe poverty, and problems relating to sanitation, population and infrastructure complicate its progress. "Their efforts to feed every student in government schools is noble but just like this country funding is limited and thus constrains what can be done for the children."