Savitriamma, 54, has a large family to take care of and her hands are full from early morning till she goes to bed late at night. Despite her hectic schedule, this wife of a medium farmer in Markapuram in Prakasam district never forgets to put two fistfuls of rice in a pot day after day. And at the end of the month, she gives away the collected rice — about three kilograms — to the local school.
Hundreds of women like her, rich and poor, educated and unlettered, have created a revolution of sorts in this backward region. They have succeeded where the government with all its power and resources has failed: in arresting school dropouts.
The women decided to take matters into their own hands when they realised the dropout rate among local schoolchildren here was dropping alarming. When they heard that school attendance had improved dramatically in a nearby district after a big corporate had provided the children with good meals, they decided to do the same. The local unit of the Satya Sai Seva Samiti decided to coordinate their efforts.
In Markapuram alone, all 300 households contribute 3 kg of rice each every month. After the women volunteered with the rice, some NRIs and affluent people came forward with cash contributions, which help defray other expenses.
Now, all these these contributions help provide mid-day meals to 2,400 students. “More women in neighbouring villages are coming forward to form similar groups in their villages,” said G Ramachandra Reddy, convenor of the samiti.
Each child gets a hot meal of rice, two curries, a cup of curd and a fruit. The food, cooked with care, has helped attract more students to the school. And the dropout rate is no longer so alarming.