About the Masala Mamas
In the Kalwa slum in Mumbai, India, a place that 200,000 people call home, where clean water and electricity are hard to find, harsh conditions often prevent little children from going to school. Sometimes, even children as young as 5 years old are sent to work — all to make a few rupees so they will have something to eat.
But an amazing group of women is working to change that.
Meet the Masala Mamas. Sixteen women who live in the Kalwa slum who are dedicating their lives to making sure children eat and learn. .
Every morning, the women get together in a small kitchen and cook. They greet each other with blessings and bindis, and then they get to work. They cook hundreds of meals – hot nutritious meals from fresh ingredients and aromatic spices. They cook with extra special love, care and dedication. Because their customers are the most important people in the world: children.
It’s a win-win. Kids come to school where they learn AND they eat. The women are building a social enterprise that helps their families and their communities. And they do it while working to transform the lives of the children.
And most of all, they do all this while rebuilding what they lost when they left their villages: Connections. Friendship. Love. All through food!
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257,400. That is how many meals the women make every year as part of the Eat2Learn program providing meals for children in school.
Mumbai is home to over seven million children under the age of 14 who are growing up in abject poverty. The World Health Organization estimates that about 49 per cent of the world’s underweight children and 34 per cent of the world’s malnourished children live in India.
Education is the key to reducing these figures. However, in Mumbai, because food is scarce and the primary focus is on day-to-day survival, there is tremendous pressure on children – even as young as four years old – to work. Slum children work as rag pickers, sewage cleaners and other unhealthy and dangerous jobs, earning a few cents a month in order to stave off their families’ hunger. Education and literacy are put off as parents struggle to balance the immediate needs for family survival of the family over the need of a child to grow, develop, and study in order to build a different life.
The solution to this problem is simple but powerful: Eat to Learn.
The Masala Mamas, working with Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM), prepare daily hot, nutritious meals to children attending school. The children get tremendous incentives to go to school. Not only do they receive the education that they need to end the cycle of poverty, but they also receive warm, wholesome meals that keep their minds and bodies healthy and strong. The GPM solution of providing meals for children in school addresses both short-term and long-term needs of the children. The immediate need of hunger relief is achieved, malnutrition is abated, and a sound education is established to help promote a better life for children of the slums.
The children come for the food and stay for the learning. Or maybe it’s the other way around. They come for the learning and stay for the food. Either way, the food has transformed the learning experience. Children and their parents know that the school is a place that looks after each child – in mind, body and spirit. Thanks to the women’s cooking, children are eating well – and they are learning. They are loved and tended to all around.
The food is made fresh every morning out of local ingredients like lentils, pulses and vegetables. The children look forward to the food, and they eat it with joy, satisfaction and gusto. Because they know that the food is made with love and care. It is about sustaining the children. And it is about looking after the community.
On Mondays the children eat poha – rice flakes with vegetables.
On Tuesdays the children eat dal khichdi – lentil and rice stew.
On Wednesdays the children eat chana dal – black bean curry.
On Thursdays the children eat veg pulav – a pilaf made with mixed vegetables.
On Fridays the children eat soya pulav – a stew made from soya chunks, an affordable and simple source of protein.
And on Saturdays, a special treat, the children eat sheet – a kind of sweet semolina pudding that they particularly love.
And for special occasions and holidays, the women prepare special holiday fare like shankarpali and modaks.
Nutrition has a tremendous impact on every aspect of child development, including cognitive development. Proper nutrition is essential to learning, thinking, and cognitive perception. Young children’s development is particularly sensitive to the effects of an inadequate diet. Research shows links between nutrition and brain development, cognitive function, curiosity, behavior, and communication and social skills. By providing daily nutrition, The Masala Mamas and GPM provide children with basic tools for good health, cognition and development.
And the women benefit, too. They are building a social enterprise that has ripple effects throughout the Kalwa community. Because when women thrive, everyone thrives.
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That is how many children ages 6-16 are learning at the GPM Love2Learn school in the urban Kalwa slum in Thane and in the remote rural tribal district of Palgar, Maharashtra, where they receive meals in school, doctor visits, and individualized attention.
Children living in conditions of poverty face many educational, medical, nutritional, developmental and financial challenges.
The Love2Learn school network addresses these issues through the strategic approach of the “Triad of Children’s Development”. That is, children need education, health and nutrition support simultaneously in order to end the cycle of poverty.
Education. The primary aim of Love2Learn is to see every child succeed in literacy and math. The school uses progressive, culturally sensitive approaches to problem-solving and language acquisition. Love2Learn also incorporates some vital creative enrichment components to enrich the children’s learning experience. The school offers engaging performing arts activities for creative expression and personality development, as well as technologically-based interactive English teaching through e-learning.
Nutrition. The GPM “Eat to Learn” approach, in which every student receives a fresh, hot meal in school, has been fully integrated into the Love2Learn school infrastructure. This approach, which has been endorsed by former US President Bill Clinton, ensures that children will have the warm tummies and nutritional boosts that they need in order to learn, while providing parents with powerful incentives to keep their children in school.
Health. Love2Learn provides a Mobile Health Unit with medical personnel that visit the villages every day. They provide check-ups, vaccinations, preventive care, hygiene education supported by Sundara, and follow-up care. The Mobile Health Unit ensures that the basic medical needs of all 500 children are cared for.
By attending to all three aspects of the child’s needs, Love2Learn fights poverty and child labor while caring for the literacy, health and nutrition needs of the children – the vital components that the children need to thrive.
“Children, you have a terrific opportunity with the Love2Learn program and GPM to expand your academic horizons, grow healthy and achieve many great things,” said Dr. Raghunat Rathod, the Head of the District Government medical services, to the children. He visited the Love2Learn school and watched tribal dance performances by the children. “With the tools available to you now, you can acquire knowledge and contribute back to your village communities and the district”.
About Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM)
Gabriel Project Mumbai (GPM) is an NGO that works with local communities in caring for vulnerable children in slums and under-served rural villages by providing a grassroots response to poverty, malnutrition, disease, illiteracy, hunger, and child labor in India.
Founded in 2012, GPM uses a creative, compassionate, and carefully-crafted strategic approach of The Triad of Children’s Well-Being. By attending to three core issues simultaneously – education, health and nutrition – GPM creates the best environment to maximize the ability of vulnerable children to change the trajectory of their lives.
Education: Love2Learn School Network. Educational opportunity is a key factor in breaking the cycles of poverty. GPM provides formal and informal schooling to over 1000 children living in urban slums and 25 rural poor villages around Mumbai. The Love2Learn school network serves families in Kalwa, Thane, and in the remote tribal villages of Palgar District of Maharashtra. The Love2Learn educational network is built on the understanding that all children deserve access to high-quality education. Love2Learn provides an innovative, student-centered, and progressive program for every child.
Nutrition: Eat2Learn Nutrition Program. The most gripping barrier to children’s growth is hunger. When families do not have food security, everything else falls by the wayside. In order to alleviate children’s hunger and to prevent child labor, GPM provides a simple yet powerful solution: Eat to Learn. This signature program provides hot, nutritious meals to children learning in classes every school day. These hot meals offer children – and their parents – a wonderful incentive to stay in school rather than send children to work.
Health: The Shravan Health Center. In 2015, GPM opened the first ever medical clinic for mothers and children in the Kalwa slum, serving a community of 200,000 people. The clinic, in partnership with Doctors for You, provides a wide range of accessible services, including sick visits, vaccinations, tuberculosis treatment, medical outreach and more. The clinic also treats malnourished babies and children as part of the Dr. Gerald J. Friedman Infant Malnutrition Intervention Program. In rural villages, GPM also provides a mobile clinic to serve the medical needs of families in remote tribal areas.
Community Development. In addition to providing services for vulnerable children, GPM takes a strategic approach to community development, initiating projects that advance the health and well-being of entire communities in the slums and in remote villages. In the urban areas, this includes a safe-drinking water project, The Joshua Jacob Greenberger Learning Center, grass-roots social enterprises, and more. In the remote villages, community development includes water and agricultural projects, community centers, and improving health and education. The goal of community development is to get communities engaged, involved and empowered.
Women’s Empowerment. Development is intricately tied to women’s empowerment because when women thrive, entire communities thrive. GPM advances women’s social enterprise and economic development to create a win-win model for social change – like the Masala Mamas project, in which women are the driving force behind nutrition, literacy and education. This model for community development enables the women to receive a powerful social and economic boost while creating ripples of change throughout the entire community.
GPM relies on partnerships with local grass-roots businesses and NGO partners, as well as friends and supporters around the world.