In the Words of This Little Girl, A Warm Meal and ‘Magic Sprinkles’ Make Learning Possible

Photo: WFP/Isheeta Sumra
World Food Programme
Published August 2, 2021

This summer, we’re calling attention to the tragic effects of childhood hunger and the marks it can leave on youth for the rest of their lives. Through school meals and specialized nutrition support, we are able to pull children like little Rani back from the edge of hunger. 

Rani is 11 years old now, but when we first met her in 2018 she was already making waves as a spunky 7-year-old who was ferociously dedicated to breaking down barriers for girls like her. A top student with dreams of becoming a doctor, Rani was already defying gender and cultural norms at such a young age. 

Ask either of her brothers or her parents and they will tell you that 7-year-old Rani rules the house.

“My Rani is a strong-willed and courageous girl,” her mother, Sara, tells me in the family’s modest, two-room house in the town of Dhenkanal, India. “She comes home and tells us everything she does in school.”

As a top student, Rani never misses a day of class and has become among her teachers’ favorite pupils. During recess, she likes to play sports with the boys and has even cut her hair short because “girls can have short hair too.” With a sparkle in her eyes, she tells me that she wants to grow up and become a doctor, in part so she can help take care of her parents.

Her mother tears up talking about her only daughter. She tells me that Rani is a bright child, but they can’t afford to give her extra tuition like some of her other friends.

“Whenever I feel bad and cry about not being able to afford things for Rani, she gets very angry,” Sara says. “She tells me that when she grows up she will take care of her father and me. She promises me that her father will never have to do any hard labor once she grows up.”

Rani’s father is a daily wage laborer, which means he sometimes struggles to put food on the table. Often, the family lacks the means to feed Rani and her brothers a balanced and nutritious diet.

Like thousands of households in the state of Odisha, Rani’s parents live below the poverty line and rely on the country’s midday meal program to keep their children healthy and well-nourished. As the largest national program of its kind in the world, India’s midday meal program provides school lunches to the country’s most vulnerable students.

Micronutrient Powders (aka Magic Sprinkles)

These days, thanks to an initiative with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), students like Rani are receiving school meals with an extra nutritional boost — micronutrients delivered one of two ways: As fortified rice or as a powder mixed into curry. Kids call the powder “magic sprinkles.” And the addition of these specially formulated vitamins and minerals — like iron, zinc and vitamin A — helps prevent the kind of hidden hunger that can lead to illness, infection and even blindness, especially in young children.

Rani stands to answer a question in the classroom

WFP/Isheeta Sumra

Always the first to raise her hand in class, Rani volunteers to explain to her classmates why this “new powder” is so special.

“The nutrition we are getting through the powder will make us stronger and better at our studies,” she explains.

Rani takes these lessons about nutrition to heart. So much so that when she’s offered a sweet by her headmaster, she refuses it, saying that sweets are bad for her teeth.

Rani with her brother and mother at home

WFP/Isheeta Sumra

Students, parents and teachers say they can already see the results of the state’s fortification effort, which was supported by corporate partners Sodexo, the General Mills Foundation and Teck Resources.

“We want the best for Rani, but we can’t afford it,” her mother tells me. “We are very grateful to have access to the special nutritious powder for our children.”

Programs like this are just one of the many ways we’re fighting back against childhood hunger. In fact, we’re the largest provider of school meals in the world. You can help us send meals to kids like Rani so they can all reach their full potential. Send a meal today.