The U.S. Ambassador to Lao PDR, Rena Bitter visited schools supported by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the U.S. government on March 10 in Luang Prabang Province.
The U.S. government’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program has been funding WFP school meals program since 2008. Each day, 140,000 children in 1,450 schools across seven provinces receive a nutritious snack or lunch. This helps increase enrolment, boost attendance and decrease dropout rates. Ultimately, the program leads to improved learning and better opportunities for Lao girls and boys to complete primary education. “By supporting programs that keep children in school and keep them focused on learning, we are investing in the long-term economic and social development of Laos,” said U.S. Ambassador Bitter.
Daily meals include commodities donated by U.S. Department of Agriculture, vegetables from the school gardens, and animal protein from fish ponds or chickens to ensure diet diversity. Alongside these meals, our partners also help provide access to water, hygiene, nutrition education, and literacy programming.
Through the Local and Regional Purchase Program, also funded by U.S. government, school meals will be linked to local agriculture production. The program aims at building the capacity of smallholder farmers, particularly women, increasing their production and creating a local market. Since schools will be procuring their fresh foods, in the long-term this will lead to greater community ownership and sustainability.
“The continued and generous support from the United States reflects their commitment to invest in the children and the country’s future. The positive progress we have achieved thus far is also a result of a very close and strong partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports, we are delivering better together for a greater beneficial impact on the children”, said Sarah Gordon-Gibson, WFP Country Director.
In countries where they have been conducted, investment cases show that for every dollar invested in school meals, the economic returns from improved health and education among schoolchildren and increased productivity when they are adults, range from three to eight dollars. This is a great investment in a country’s overall development.