VIENTIANE, April 5, 2013--- For many children in Oudomxay, a province in northwest Laos, going to school means a long, two-hour walk through hilly terrain. Some carry packed lunch. However, many of these children go to school empty-handed because their parents have to leave for the fields very early in the morning and cannot cook for them. They usually go to school hungry. To avoid this, some parents choose to pull their children out of school and take them to the fields where they could- at the very least- be fed. Unfortunately, this practice contributes to poor school attendance in Laos, a country where only seven out of ten children complete primary school. The government launched the National School Meals Program (NSMP) as part of efforts to address this challenge. Supported by the World Bank, it was rolled out on February 2012.
The National School Meals Program
“NSMP provides free nutritious school lunches to primary school children in remote areas to encourage school enrollment,” said Omporn Regel, an education specialist from the World Bank office in Vientiane, “The program recognizes that good health and proper nutrition are important for improving mental performance, increasing enrollment, and reducing absenteeism. Community ownership is central to the success of this program,”
An Oudomxay local government official noted that parents were supportive of the NSMP. “It’s a ‘worry-free’ program. Parents don’t have to worry about their children going home for lunch and having an accident. For example, they worry that if the children cook alone they might burn the house,” she said.
The NSMP initially covered 66 schools but has now expanded to 227 schools. It is benefiting 19,098 primary school students from Oudomxay, Phongsaly, Huaphan, Bolikhamxai, and Xayaboury, which are among the poorest provinces in Laos