Since June 2011, Room to Grow has been providing some funding to Sky Blue School in order for the school to be able to provide a nutritious snack to children in their nursery program. Currently, under this program, children in the nursery receive a box of soy milk and some fruit three times a week.
The program has two purposes. The first is to reduce malnutrition rates among children under the age of five. It is during this time that malnutrition can cause stunting which has an impact on children’s mental and intellectual development for the rest of their lives. The soy milk we provide is fortified with vitamins and minerals and served with fresh fruit.
Our second goal is to increase enrollment rates at the school. We have seen that enrollment rates are closely linked with food programs. When food programs are cut, children stop coming to school. We hope that the reverse is also true: that children will be enticed to school by food and that this will help build a culture of eduction from a young age. In addition, when nursery-age children come to school, their caretakers, often their older siblings, are also free to come to school.
Nobel interviewed one nursery student who said: “I can not eat snacks in my home. My mother doesn’t buy for me because she has no money. So, I go to school every week day because I can eat snacks at the school almost every day after napping in the afternoon. I can eat snacks, I can play with my friends and I also can study at school. Now, I can read a lot of poems, I can count one to twenty, I can read and write Burmese alphabets and English alphabets too.”
The program has had problems. At first we provided a food subsidy, allowing the school cook to select and chose the snacks for children. Unfortunately, what is often considered a snack for a child is generally not nutritious. The school purchased cookies and other sweet foods. For the past two months, we have switched to milk and fruit. The most common fruits served are bananas, corn and sweet potato, although bananas are a clear favorite among the children.
To date, it has been difficult to judge the success of the program. Floods and heavy rains have kept students at home during the past months and numbers in the nursery, and at all schools, have been fluctuating widely.
In December, we will begin construction of a new nursery building. It will be an adobe structure designed and decorated by local artists. The new, more inviting structure will allow children more space to sing and play and sleep. As well, starting in November, through the Uplift Initiative, we will be expanding the program to feed all the children milk and fruit for breakfast so that they get the best possible start to the day. We will get those children out of the dump during the day, and into the classroom!