Food for Thought

Find out why school dinners make a huge difference to children in a remote Nepalese village

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Nepal is one of the hilliest countries in the world. The Nepalese people say that if it was flat it would be almost the same size as the USA!

Most of the population live in remote areas, hours from the nearest town or shop so many grow their own food. But growing enough to live on is a real challenge.

Ben Thompson travelled to the region with World Class to find out what life is like for young people.

Miles from anywhere

The village of Dalla in western Nepal has a population of 500. It is extremely hard to reach from the capital, Kathmandu.

Pupils gather in the playground Pupils gather in the playground

If you drove it might take twenty hours. There are no shops in Dalla. The nearest shop is a 6 hour walk.

Ben arrived in the village just in time for morning assembly at Shree Sitaram Primary School.

The pupils seem to love their school - the song they are singing says "Education brings miracles wherever it goes".

Many of these children come to school on an empty stomach. Hamer, aged 12, is one of these children.

Apart from a lack of food, there's also no electricity in the village and up to 30 children sit crammed onto wooden benches in tiny classrooms.

They've got four hours of lessons before they get their school lunch. But first, the food has got to reach them!

The long road to the school canteen

The food is grown in Nepal and begins its journey in the fertile Terai region in the south of the country. It's then transported in trucks along a dusty, winding road to the school.

Start Quote

Those who were unable to get education before are now able to get education because of school meals”

End Quote Shree Sitaram Primary school pupils's song to their lunch!

The United Nations World Food Programme has been delivering sacks of food to schools in this area for the past 16 years. It's a difficult and dangerous job - the road has no walls in places, and passing another truck is a hairy business! It takes two days of non-stop driving.

Ben visited one of the food warehouses run by the UN in this area of Nepal. The food comes here on trucks and is then shipped out to schools all around this region.

One of these sacks of food can feed up to 250 children a day. Each sack contains a cereal mixture with 18 extra vitamins and minerals. It gets mixed together with a type of fat called ghee, and heated over a smoky fire in the school kitchen.

With 95,000 children to feed in this part of Nepal, getting the food in and out of the warehouses quickly isn't easy.

Donkey Power

Perilous journey

World Food Programme donkeys load up with food

In Nepal, it is very tough to transport food through the mountains

It can also be difficult to make sure the food or money reaches the people who need it. It can get stuck on the way or be stolen.

Free school meals are a good way to make sure hungry children get food.

Once the food reaches the end of the big road, the truck can go no further. So, it's all hooves on deck for the last part of the journey.

Each mule carries four sacks of food - a load of 100 kilos - which is more than Ben weighs! It takes a further three days trekking from the warehouse to reach the schools.

The malnutrition rate amongst children in Nepal is high at 41%, but in hill areas like this it's far worse, at 60%. For many of these kids, the school lunch is the only proper meal they'll get all day.

Ben joined a class outside the school before lunch time. Everyone said they were looking forward to their meal.

Lunch time

As the food is being prepared, cooking smells waft through the school grounds and tiny faces appear at doorways and windows.

Enticed by the smell of food! Enticed by the smell of food!

The playground doubles up as an al fresco dining hall. And there is a breathtaking view from the school canteen!

The pupils are hungry and eager to take their places for lunch.

Each child gets 50 grams of food to eat, which is around the same as a commerical chocolate bar. The smaller children are served first. The older children like Hamer have to wait until the end.

Hamer told Ben: "I like the school meal very much. It helps me concentrate in class. I'm really happy to get a meal at school. If I didn't get a school meal, I wouldn't be coming to school. "

Life at home

Other ways to help hungry people

Pupils line up in Dalla Nepal
  • Food like rice and flour is sometimes sent from other countries, but that doesn't help local farmers in Nepal
  • Sometimes charities send money so families can buy food at the market or in shops
  • This also means local farmers who have extra food to sell don't lose out
  • There wasn't any extra food to buy in Dalla. The rice which the children ate for lunch was grown in the south of Nepal

After school, Hamer has time to play with her kitten. It's her first pet and her parents bought it as a rat catcher.

Later on, Hamer sits with her dad as he prepares supper. He uses cooking oil from a ration which is given to Hamer if she achieves 80% attendance at school.

It's part of a World Food Programme incentive to keep girls at school, and with cooking oil prices rising, it makes a big difference to her family.

Like most people here, Hamer's parents are farmers. Over three quarters of Nepal's rain should fall at this time of year, but the monsoon is late so the family's crops have failed. This means they've now only got enough food to last for six months.

Hamer's dad told Ben, "As long as I can, I will try to educate Hamer. But if things get really hard, she might have to stop going to school and work in the fields instead."

And that's the case for most of the families in this area. For many, the only thing that persuades parents to keep on sending their children to school is the knowledge that they'll get at least get one good meal a day.

Effects of food programme

The headmaster told Ben of the dramatic effects that food programme has had on student enrollment: "When I first became headmaster at this school, there were only 22 students. And now there are 170 students. And that's because of the school meals programme."

The cooking oil scheme for girls has had a massive impact too. Before, there were no girls at this school. Now, thanks to the school meals and cooking oil, there are 87 girls in school.

Looking forwards

Cooking oil is a precious commodity Cooking oil is a precious commodity

But they're only given the oil at primary school and that has Hamer worried about the future: "After a few months, I'll be moving to secondary school. I feel unhappy about it because I won't be receiving school meals there.

My friend used to tell me that after leaving this school, because she no longer gets a school meal, she feels very hungry while studying."

The World Food Programme is hoping this will change, and that next year they'll be able to start providing school lunches for children at secondary school.

They're also supporting irrigation and road-building projects, which could in turn help improve agriculture.

It's a slow process, but the hope is that in the long run this will enable families like Hamers to grow more food and eventually support themselves.

Schools World Service is a BBC British Council co-production

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