A seemingly simple concept is that “a hungry child cannot learn.” Yet, many students in Nepal come to school hungry. Insisting that school should provide at least one nutrition-rich meal during the school days, in late 2017 we started a campaign to raise awareness of the importance of good nutrition in schools of Dakhsinkali Municipality, a rural part of Kathmandu. The task of convincing schools that a lunch cafeteria is as important as a class room or a library was very difficult. Looking back, there were three major oppositions: the first, schools were unsure whether a lunch program benefits students academic. Second, the idea was opposed for financial reasons. Third, schools just did not understand the idea because it was simply not done before.
Lunch and Learn:
After the initial advocacy and awareness raising, we knew that we would need to provide more concrete evidence of this idea. In November 2017, we started a nutrition program in a new partner school, Kalidevi School as a pilot program. This is a school in a very impoverished area where health and education outcomes are generally quite low. However, within six months of the pilot program, the school saw higher attendance rate, better concentration by students in the class, and improvement in the students’ Body Mass Index (BMI).
This positive development did not go unnoticed by the parents and teachers of the other schools of the region. Some of the schools approached us on how to implement a similar program. These schools were 2 of our other partner schools, Shikharapur Community School and Setidevi High School.
Shikharapur School started a lunch program in their preschool (Nursery and Kindergarten) up to class three. The school now provides a nutrition-rich lunch at the cost of 25 Nepali Rupees (roughly $0.25 USD) per day. Parents are extremely happy that they do not have to make lunch for their children and kids do not buy junk food with the lunch money. Now, students have access to healthy food at lower cost. Shikharapur is considering expanding the lunch program for higher grades as well.
Setidevi High school, on the other hand, is launching a lunch program for primary level students from May 2019, when the new session starts. We are looking forward to seeing the impacts of that program in this coming year.
From Novelty to A Healthy New Tradition?:
Seeing additional partner schools take on these initiatives is a very positive sign, and it is also a testament to the success of our Pilot Nutrition Program. We believe that these are just the first ripple effects of that campaign, which we started a couple years ago. Ultimately, our hope is that all the schools of the region will start some kind of a nutrition program in their schools because we not only believe, but now know for a fact that it is important to “fill their bellies before filling their brains”!