KAMPONG THOM —
Tuesday morning, not long after dawn, a line of students formed outside En Komar Primary School, in Kampong Thom province. Students were waiting to receive breakfast from their teachers.
The breakfasts are part of a World Food Program initiative that aims to feed 3.5 million students by 2016.
So far, the program feeds about 150,000 primary school students, with help from a US grant of $20 million, in the provinces of Battambang, Kampong Thom and Siem Reap.
Students in Kampong Thom said Monday the breakfasts help them stay alert in school. Some even said it helps them keep returning to school.
“I had rice, water greens and fish this morning,” Nen Samnang, a six-grader at En Komar, said Tuesday morning, as he ate in the front of his classroom.
Some of the vegetables are grown at the school, and some are donated by students’ families.
For poor families, the program provides $5 or 10 kilograms of rice per month, to encourage parents to send their children to school.
“I get $5 a month,” said student Chin Sokreoun. “I take this money to my mother so that she can buy rice to cook. Now she always pushes me to go to school.”
En Komar’s director, Sem Non, said the program benefits students both nutritionally and motivationally. “When they are fed, they stop being hungry and can concentrate on their studies,” he said.
WFP officials say malnutrition remains a major public health issue in Cambodia. An estimated 40 percent of children here under the age of 5 are malnourished, and more than a quarter of them are under weight. At least one in 10 is acutely malnourished, and more than half are anemic.
The organization estimates the country loses up to $400 million per year, or 2.5 percent of its GDP, to malnutrition.
Gianpietro Bordignon, the WFP’s Cambodia representative, said schools are selected for the program based on poverty and other indicators. “So we target communities and schools that have less means and resources to send their children to school,” he said.
Jeff Daigle, deputy chief of mission at the US Embassy, said Tuesday the US is “pushing hard” to increase resources to Cambodia. The $20 million grant from the embassy was aimed at “working with the partner schools and ensuring and boosting their involvement and performance,” he said.
An additional $75 million has gone to Cambodia for food security and agriculture, he said.
Education Minister Hang Chuon Naron thanked the US and the WFP on Tuesday, saying the school program has directly contributed to increased enrollment.