In June 2015, we began providing 2,200 children in 8 school with a delicious and nutritious afternoon meal to counter the sharp drop in student attendance following the devastating April 2015 earthquake. The school meals have not only improved attendance and reduced drop-out rates, but are also contributing towards more engaged children that concentrate better in class.
There was a sharp drop in child attendance immediately after the earthquake. Parents were scared to send their children to school, roads were blocked, and school was not the prime concern for most with destroyed homes. We immediately got to work. Our top priority was to set up Temporary Learning Centers (TLCs) in all 8 schools supported by us so that children would have a safe place to study. Rather than building them of tarpaulin like most organizations were doing, we chose to build classrooms with bamboo and CGI sheets so that they would last at least a couple of years.
Despite having safe classrooms to come back to, few children showed up for weeks after the earthquake. In June 2015, we decided to start providing 2,200 children with a nutritious afternoon school meal to bring them back to school, and to help their mental and physical development. We observed a significant increase in attendance immediately after we launched the meal program.
Happy children enjoying a hot and nutritious afternoon meal at school!
What are the benefits of the school meals we provide?
Increase in attendance:
School meals provide parents a strong incentive to send their children to school. Research from the Indian mid-meal program suggests a significant increase in attendance, especially among girls. This phenomenon is especially pronounced in areas suffering from natural disasters such as the devastating April 2015 earthquake that struck Nepal. School meals also lead to a decrease in drop-out rates among older children.
Improvement in grades:
Hungry children struggle to concentrate on what is being taught. Their focus in on the pangs of hunger in their bellies rather than what is being taught. Research also shows that hungry children have higher disciplinary problems and tend to disrupt other children as well. Therefore, school meals not only reduce absenteeism, but also improve student alertness and grades as a result.
Nepal’s malnutrition rates alarmingly high–NDHS 2011 shows that 41% of under-5 children are stunted, 29% are underweight and 11% are wasted. Mid-day meals are a regular source of nutrition for children, especially poor children, and act as a safety net from malnutrition. Research shows a substantial increase in the daily nutrient intake for children (ranging from 49% increase to 100% in some cases). School meals often aid in preventing permanent damage that hunger and micro nutrient deficiencies can cause to growing children. Additionally, school meals help reduced the variability of inter-seasonal food intake of children.
Supporting the local economy:
We hire local village women to cook the school meals to provide income. Several studies show that women make better investments in families with additional income and also help women escape domestic violence. Additionally, we try to procure food materials at the village level whenever possible to promote local agriculture and reduce transportation pollution.