Para Hunzai of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) recently reported on the massive flooding taking place in Cambodia. Thousands of people have been displaced from their homes. Livelihoods have been lost as farm lands have been swept away. This crisis is taking a great toll on the many families in the country already living in poverty.
WFP provides assistance in Cambodia, including a school meals program which is a crucial safety net to help the poor overcome shocks like the floods. School feeding keeps children fed, healthy, and learning. Para recently took time to discuss the impact of this program and ways you can get involved to help feed and educate children in Cambodia.
How many children are currently receiving the WFP school meals?
During the coming school year (October 2011 – July 2012) 342,000 primary school children will receive hot nutritious breakfasts consisting of rice, yellow split beans, fish, salt and oil. Over 65,000 of the poorest families also receive a monthly scholarship of either 10 kg of rice per month or the cash equivalent of US$5 as an incentive to send children to school.
What has been the impact of the meals in terms of class attendance and performance?
An independent impact evaluation commissioned by WFP in 2010 showed that the impact of the school meals and food scholarship activities is evident on three levels:
Education: The impact of school meals was evident in higher enrolment (an analysis of Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MoEYS) data shows a 2-2.5 percent increase upon a school’s inclusion in the School Meals Programme, with a bigger increase for girls at 3 percent; furthermore, over the period 2002–2009 the increase in enrolment was 6.1 percent higher for schools that were part of the School Meals Programme); increased attendance (based on the household survey, food scholarship activities contributed to an annual increase of around 3 percent) and reduced drop-out rates (the School Meals Programme reduced drop-outs, especially in grades 2–4 by around 2.7 percent).
Nutrition: The School Meals Programme helped reduce morbidity among pupils in general and absence from school as a result of illness among girls. The potential for nutritional improvement through school meals was evidenced through a decrease in night blindness, attributed to the use of vitamin A-fortified vegetable oil.
Value-Transfer: The food scholarship constituted a predictable and regular value transfer to households worth 23.5 percent of household income. Among School Meals Programme beneficiaries the figure was 14 percent. Food scholarship activities enabled poor families to extend the period during which they did not have to buy rice and increased resilience to food shortages during lean periods, thereby reducing their vulnerability and increasing options for investing in assets. Households also confirmed that the food scholarship activities constituted a credible compensation for income lost if children were attending school, thereby reducing child labour.
Is there a plan to expand the program if needed?
WFP’s school meals and scholarship programme covers over 2,000 schools in 12 out of 24 provinces, reaching over half a million school children. Based on need, WFP’s Education Programme has been re-targeted to reach a greater number of children this school year. The Scholarship Programme is being scaled up from 900 to 2,000 schools (from 20,000 to 60, 000 households) (Oct 2011-July 2012). In addition, a pilot cash scholarship programme will reach 5,000 students in various schools. The expansion of the programme is reliant on resources and need and is re-assessed accordingly. WFP targets the most food-insecure provinces.
What are the prospects of a national school lunch program in Cambodia where all children can receive the meals?
They say breakfast is the most important meal of the day, this is especially true for children from poor households who sometimes eat little or no breakfast. This affects their ability to concentrate on lessons for the rest of the day. Therefore, WFP provides breakfasts before the school day commences. WFP has been implementing its school feeding programme in Cambodia since 1999. WFP is working closely with the Ministry of Education and with NGO partners to explore cost-effective options for possible nationwide scale-up in the future. Currently, WFP and the Ministry of Education target the poorest and most food insecure areas in 12 out of 24 provinces. There is currently no school lunch programme.
How can someone get involved and help school feeding in Cambodia?
Supporters of WFP can help create awareness of issues of food insecurity and malnutrition of vulnerable populations including primary school children in Cambodia. A recent national survey indicates that almost 40 percent of children under 5 are not as tall as they should be (stunted) and are not receiving the micronutrients needed to grow. Awareness-raising can be done by spreading the word of WFP activities through sharing communication and advocacy material published on the WFP website (for information on Cambodia, see http://www.wfp.org/countries/cambodia).
WFP is 100 percent voluntarily funded, raising every dollar it spends. Donations are greatly welcome to ensure programmes continue to reach the desired impact. The website www.freerice.com is also a way to raise awareness, better your vocabulary, and raise money. The website lets users play word games. For every right answer users can donate rice directly to WFP beneficiaries including to the WFP school meals programme in Cambodia.
Article first published as Interview: Para Hunzai of the World Food Programme in Cambodia on Blogcritics.