Thanks to a new fortification project in Odisha state, students like 7-year-old Rani are getting better nutrition to survive and thrive.
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.
Now, thanks to a new initiative with the World Food Programme (WFP), students like Rani in Dhenkanal, Odisha, are receiving school meals with an extra nutritional boost — micronutrients delivered one of two ways: As a powder mixed into curry or as fortified rice. 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.
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.
Students, parents and teachers tell me they can already see the results of the state’s new fortification effort, which is 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.”
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