During the month of November, 2016, Lha worked with a survey sociologist* who conducted a program evaluation of our Community Soup Kitchen in Dharamsala. Beneficiaries eating lunch at the Community Kitchen completed a self-administered questionnaire, which provided important information about the program’s impacts and effectiveness. Our survey demonstrated positive impacts to people’s health, finances, diet and education, while documenting the critical importance of Lha’s ongoing efforts to provide nutritious meals to low-income Tibetan refugees. We also found that users are very satisfied with all aspects of the Community Kitchen.
Response to satisfaction w.r.t. quality, taste and nutrition of the food served at Lha
Forty people eating at the Community Soup Kitchen completed our questionnaire, including ten females and 29 males, (one missing value; N = 40). Respondents ranged in age from 21 years to 84 years, with a mean age of 36 years. The vast majority of those using the Community Kitchen are either Buddhist monks or nuns (n = 17) or full-time (n = 10) or part-time students (n = 2). Only eight users are employed, and one is looking for work.
We found that half of the people eating at the Community Kitchen are living on less than 3,000 Rupees a month, the equivalent of about 45 US dollars. We also discovered that all but one person eats lunch at the Community Kitchen every day, five days a week, and half have been eating at the Community Kitchen for more than six months.
We asked a number of questions about food security or access to healthy and nutritious food. Two-thirds of our respondents said they skipped or missed at least one meal last month specifically because they did not have enough money for food. And one third said they skipped or missed meals at least once last month, because there was not enough money for food. Moreover, 26 people agreed with the statement that “I have trouble paying for food outside of the Community Kitchen, because I don’t have enough money,” and 24 people said that “without the Community Kitchen, I would not have enough to eat.”
Thirty-four respondents strongly agreed (n = 28) or somewhat agreed (n = 6) that “eating meals at the Community Kitchen helps me afford to buy healthier meals at home. Moreover, everyone who answered the question agreed strongly (n = 31) or somewhat (n = 8) that the Community Kitchen has helped them with their finances (one missing answer).All of the people who answered the question agreed strongly (n = 26) or somewhat strongly (n= 13) that “eating at the Community Kitchen helps me have a healthier and more nutritious diet (n = 39; one missing answer).
We also asked, “How has your overall diet changed as a result of coming to the Community Kitchen?” Nineteen people mentioned positive improvements in their diet, and several mentioned that they are now eating more vegetables since coming to the Community Kitchen. Seven people specifically said their diet had improved because the Community Kitchen regularly serves fruit, and a few said their diet had improved because the food at the Community Kitchen is safe and nutritious. Perhaps most importantly we found that for many users, their most balanced and nutritious meals are obtained solely from the Community Kitchen.
In addition to dietary improvements, we also found that the Community Kitchen is positively impacting users’ physical health. Nearly 40 percent of those eating at the Community Kitchen are currently being treated by a medical doctor for a physical health problem, most commonly gastric disorders.
When asked, twenty people told us their physical or mental health had improved as a result of eating at the Community Kitchen. Several respondents mentioned that their physical health had improved due to regularly eating healthier meals that now more often include vegetables. Many mentioned health benefits from eating at the Community Kitchen at the same time every day. One person said that his health is better now and he feels more energetic. Another person said that “before I didn’t understand about health, but when I came here, I have gotten experience about health. I meet people every day. Therefore, my health is changed.”
The questionnaire also contained several items to assess the impact of Lha’s educational outreach efforts. About three-quarters of those surveyed said that since coming to the Community Kitchen they have learned about the importance of eating fruit and vegetables regularly, they have learned the importance of eating a balanced diet and are buying healthier and more nutritious food.
By providing low-cost and free lunches five days a week to Tibetan refugees, Lha’s Community Kitchen is meeting several important and obvious needs among mostly impoverished and time-stressed users, half of whom are struggling to survive on the equivalent of less than $1.50 US a day. Our evaluation documented a great and continuing need for inexpensive, very nutritious, high-quality, and well-balanced meals that contain sufficient fruit, vegetables, and sources of protein among low-income members of the Tibetan refugee community in Dharamsala.
*Todd W. Rawls, M.A., is a survey sociologist who completed all his graduate course work at the University of Chicago Committee on Human Development.
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