Sharana’s social development projects are centrally concerned with addressing communities’ nutritional needs by providing fresh and balanced meals at its creches and community centers. Each community center has a functioning kitchen and a cook who is responsible for procuring vegetables and other staples daily, and supplying fresh meals according to a preset menu to children enrolled in the creches and at summer camps. At the Homework Help Center (and at homework help sessions held at village centers), children also receive milk and snacks that are supplemented with spirulina, produced at Sharana’s own facility in Aranganur. Bananas and other fruit and vegetables grown in Aranganur are distributed to beneficiary children and/or supplied to the community center kitchens.
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Spirulina is a blue-green algae that thrives in warm, alkaline fresh-water bodies, and is rich in protein, vitamins, minerals, and carotenoids (a type of antioxidant that can help protect cells from damage). It contains nutrients, including B complex vitamins, beta-carotene, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, copper, iron, selenium, and gamma linolenic acid (an essential fatty acid). Spirulina’s nutrients are in an easily assimilable form. Studies show that it has histamine-blocking, pro-biotic properties that serve to boost the body’s immune system and make Spirulina a natural nutritional supplement.
For Sharana’s beneficiaries, Spirulina supplements are one way by which to boost the nutritional content of their daily food. Although some research shows that nuts, legumes, and meat provide efficient nutrition, making these available to large numbers of village children is expensive and not always possible. Spirulina, on the other hand, is inexpensive to cultivate throughout the year, requires minimal water, has a considerable shelf-life, and can easily be added to snacks and “mixtures” which Indian children invariably love. From production, cost, accessibility, and nutritional perspectives, therefore, Spirulina is an ideal supplement to what are otherwise normally poor diets.
The objectives of the Spirulina Project are four-fold:
- To address the problem of malnourishment by providing regular nutritional supplements to children;
- To develop a project that is self-financed through sales of part of the produce;
- To commit to sustainable development through using environmentally friendly methods of cultivation; and
- To promote the role and involvement of women in the production process.
Sharana’s spirulina is produced at a unit at the Aranganur resource center. The production, hygiene, and regular testing of water and spirulina produce are overseen by a designated social worker. About 70% of spirulina produced at Aranganur goes to nutrition programs sponsored by Sharana in Puducherry Town, Angalakuppam, Aranganur, and Mathur, but also those initiated by other NGOs such as: Lead Society for Children, Arul Ashram and Jeeva Nivas (for AIDS orphans), and Sandosham Nanban (which works with street children), and Chemin d’enfance which conducts a Ludo Mobile project for children’s development.