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MALLIKA ARYAL


MALLIKA ARYAL

RUPANDEHI- It's 3am and time to rise for a small Musahar community in Soiya, a few kilometres from the highway to Butwal. The men and women here work as daily wage labourers in construction sites in nearby towns, so leave home at the break of dawn. A few hours later their children get ready for school. If their parents found work the day before they eat rice and vegetables. Often they just have rice and salt. Many go to school hungry because they don't have anything to eat at home.

All the children here, for lack of choice, attend the government-run Singaha Primary School nearby. There are about 250 students at this school, and until last year less than 100 students used to attend regularly. Even those who showed up would run away by mid-afternoon. Students would repeat grades or quit school altogether.

The children from Soiya used to be extremely thin and small for their age, and their dark hair had lost pigment due to malnutrition. Going to school was not a priority- their hunger was. Little surprise that they would often run away rather than faint in class due to hunger.

This changed last year when the school received some funds thanks to a development worker's initiative. The small amount provided by School Lunch for Nepal, monitored by the school administration and the community, pays for one meal a day for the kids, comprising fresh vegetables, fruit, lentils and pulses. Since the lunch program started, attendance in the school has increased by more than 30 per cent, new students have enrolled and students who quit have come back.

The changes speak more than enrollment numbers, however.

A year later, the children in the school look healthier and say they actually look forward to coming to school every day. They are also performing better in class; they do their homework, and are not running away in the middle of the day.

Their families' financial situation hasn't improved. There are days when they still show up to school hungry. But when they head out to school every morning they know for certain that they will eat at least one good meal. At lunchtime the children wash their hands and feet, sit on the grass under the warm winter sun and eat together. In less than 10 minutes their plates are clean. The joy on their faces as they line up for food each day is clear to see.

It costs less than Rs200 to feed a child every month. To cut costs further the school has started growing its own vegetables. The teachers are extremely committed. Some regularly contribute from their salaries to a fund that has helped improve classrooms and buy uniforms for students.

There is no doubt that our government schools are in terrible shape and our education system is a shambles. Lack of resources, infrastructure and funds aside, the low attendance of children is the biggest challenge teachers face. The lunch program at Singaha Primary School is a small step, but it has already improved the lives of 250 children immeasurably. Teachers are motivated because they are seeing results- more children in classes, better performance and positive feedback from parents. Now the teachers and the community are thinking of new ways to make this small school better.

Often, we are so bogged down with big plans that we don't think about what we can already do. A simple initiative like School Lunch for Nepal proves how important it is to address the small challenges first. Hungry children, even if they attend classes, will not learn much. Providing them with a meal a day is only a beginning, but a fundamental one.

www.lunchfornepal.orgfor contributions



1. R RAI

Thank you very much Ms Aryal for an inspiring writing. You are absolutely right often small and simple changes are more important simply because they are not only relatively easily achievable but often lead to bigger changes.

All the staff of Lunch for Nepal-You are doing great job. Best wishes. Hope your idea and deed will not only be appreciated but spread into other districts of our country.



2. Mridul Mainali

I am a jobholder in a private sector organization in Kathmandu.

I had read several articles about mothers cooking lunch for the entire school in various parts of rural India. I had also read about the significance of sponsored lunch in improving the quality of school life and also learned about the superiority of cooked meals to packaged items like dry biscuits served to school children. 

I have also heard that the Nepal government has some lunch schemes in rural areas but I don't really know how it works. Anyways, my purpose here is not to tell what I know and what I don't. It is to wholeheartedly thank the writer of this article; for aquaining me and many others like me to  "School Lunch for Nepal" so that now I can contribute to this very practical and progressive initiative. My wholehearted gratitude once again.

 



3. Hari
We are really impressed and inspired by the article on school lunch for Nepal program. An awesome job has been done to attract the impoverished children to school, but it still needs more advocacy to attract attention of contribution. But I am really surprised with the statement that it costs only NRs 200 a month to feed lunch to a child. That is incredulous with the sky high prices of food in the country. If it is true I will fully support the cause and contribute in feeding the children. 


4. Greta C.
One would be hard pressed to find a cause more worthy of investment than investing in the nutritional, health and educational needs necessary to allow young people to obtain skilled work as adults, and move the economy forward. 


5. Gauley
Yes, I am coming home from overseas in a month's time. I will call Lunch for Nepal and contribute with whatever little I can.

British Embassy postponed it Human Rights Meet apparently because they were upset that Army wasn't cooperating on some fabricated charges against Niranjan Basnet. Its good that they postponed, it would have been a junket of their hand picked Nepali sycophants anyway. British Embassy, are you listening? Give the money that you have saved to Lunch for Nepal and get our kids to stay at school and study with full stomach.


6. Portlander
Inspiring indeed............ I will definitely make a visit when I am down south in Nepal. Small things like this is a step to a better future, the younger generations who will be the future of Nepal.

7. jagdeep

This is a such nobel initiative, and thanks to the author for bringing this cause to print.

I've already tried to do my bit (which is nothing compared to what is being done by Lunch for Nepal), and hope to continue doing so.



8. Thomas
To take nothing away from this particular initiative, it would suit the article, and answer many questions left in the comments above, and probably others questions that other readers might have had, if the author had taken the time to ask the government/district office of its position towards school lunch programme in general. 

The author would have found (e.g. by downloading ministry of education's annual report available at department of education's website) that 1] the government last year started a school lunch programme of its own in several districts (for the first time in years), 2] it has partners like WFP who has had a school lunch programme in its focus districts for years, and 3] the government last year developed and published a new School Health and Nutrition strategy (probably also available on the same website).

So.... 

- R. Rai; it is already in other districts. 
- Mridul Mainali; you are right about the government action. I don't know if the ministry is ready for private-public partnership on this area but you could ask if it is. 
- Hari; I believe that the government provides a subsidy of about 12 NRs per lunch but it depends upon the specific district as food items are cheaper in Terai than other places in Nepal (so, yes about 200 NRs seems to be enough). 
- Greta, I agree with you and I believe most studies, on countries similar to Nepal!, support this point of view.
- Gauley (and Jagdeep), when you pay taxes in Nepal you are supporting a school lunch programme automatically.
- Portlander, ask the department of education and you should be spoilt for choice if you want to visit a school with a lunch programme.  


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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