US backs nutrition, school meals programme in Laos

News Desk in Vientiane/Vientiane Times

Vientiane (Vientiane Times/ANN) - A delegation of representatives from the United States Embassy to Laos, the Ministry of Education and Sports, and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), has completed a three-day visit to Saravan province where they observed activities under WFP's School Meals programme.

The visit ended on April 27 and followed a US$10 million contribution by the United States to WFP's School Meals programme, which provides daily nutritious snacks to 150,000 schoolchildren in six provinces of Laos, according to a WFP and US joint media release.

"School meals have been show n to be an effective way to encourage parents to send their children - especially girls - to school," said WFP Representative and Country Director to Laos Ms Eri Kudo.

"Education is vital to break the cycle of under-nutrition: educated children grow into adults who produce and earn more, and are more likely to be able to provide enough of the right food to their own children."

During the three-day trip, US Ambassador Karen B. Stewart, Deputy Minister of Education and Sports Lytou Bouapao, and WFP's Eri Kudo visited Nabone village in Laongam district and Na village in Toumlan district to take part in the preparation and distribution of food to schoolchildren and see for themselves the positive impact of the programme.

The visit was part of the joint effort by the US Embassy and WFP to raise awareness of malnutrition in Laos. Malnutrition is the single biggest contributing factor to infant mortality in the country and can cause long-term damage to brains and bodies from childhood. WFP and the US Embassy are committed to working with other development partners to identify and develop effective solutions to address malnutrition.

In recent years, WFP's School Meals programme has proved an effective tool to improve both educational achievement and nutrition among Lao children. The US Department of Agriculture, through the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition grant, is the programme's largest donor.

"On behalf of the American people, I am very pleased that this support is helping thousands of Lao children receive the nutrition they need to pursue their studies and reach their full potential," said Ambassador Stewart.

The US$10 million contribution was delivered in the form of 1,600 metric tons of rice, 556 metric tons of vitamin and mineral fortified Supercereal, and 110 metric tons of vegetable oil.

The oil and Supercereal are used by village cooks to prepare mid-morning snacks, keeping hunger at bay among the schoolchildren. The rice is given as a take-home ration to students who live far from school, as an incentive for their families to ensure their continued attendance.

A US$1 million tranche of the US grant will be used to provide training and support to the Ministry of Education and Sports as part of the transition towards a National School Meals Programme.

WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. Each year, on average, WFP feeds more than 90 million people in more than 70 countries.