School meals to improve nutrition, education outcomes in 103 schools in Laos' Savannakhet

(From left) Kelly Stange, Joshua Poole, Michelle Outlaw, Khanthaly Siriphongphanh and Dr Souksomphone Anothay preparing to give schoolchildren their lunch during the handover ceremony at Phosy Primary School in Laos. — Vientiane Times/ANN

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN): Thousands of schoolchildren in Savannakhet province are set to enjoy improvement in nutrition, health, and education outcomes, thanks to the National School Meals Programme.

Distinguished officials and guests on Nov 15 marked the official handover of 44 schools in Phalanxay and 59 schools in Atsaphon district of the central province to the Programme at a handover ceremony at Phosy Primary School.

This significant milestone marks a culmination in decade-long partnership between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Ministry of Education and Sports, local communities, and Catholic Relief Services’ “Learning and Engaging All in Primary School” (LEAPS) programme to improve the nutrition, health, and education outcomes of primary school children in rural and marginalised areas of Savannakhet province.

The LEAPS programme includes supporting communities and Village Education Development Committees to improve their capacity to provide healthy school lunches daily.

Under the National School Meals Programme administered by the Ministry of Education and Sports’ Inclusive Education Promotion Centre, the 44 schools in Phalanxay and 59 schools in Atsaphon graduated to fully lead the daily school lunch activities in their villages.

This includes managing funds under the school lunch block grant mechanism to purchase diverse and nutritious food, organising community members to cook and serve daily lunches to students, and collecting community contributions for the school meals.

Catholic Relief Services and the Ministry of Education and Sports assessed the readiness and capacity of each school and local community before graduating to the National School Meals Programme and will provide support and monitoring beyond the graduation period.

The ceremony was hosted by the Phalanxay District Education and Sports Office and chaired by Deputy Minister of Education and Sports, Khanthaly Siriphongphanh.

The distinguished guests included United States Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Michelle Outlaw, Director of the Education and Sports Department in Savannakhet province Dr Souksomphone Anothay, and representatives Kelly Stange, Bobbi Kraham, Sigal Bernstein, and Maria Rakhovskaya from USDA offices in Bangkok and Washington, D.C., and Catholic Relief Services Country Representative Joshua Poole.

Addressing the event, Khanthaly thanked Catholic Relief Services for their ongoing support to the schools in Savannakhet and said “The school meals programme has supported the education system by improving education indicators and making sure that students received a healthy meal so they can learn better in the classroom.”

Chargé d’Affaires Outlaw said “One of the biggest obstacles to children reaching their full academic potential is lack of proper nourishment. The US government has invested over US$172mil since 2006, to provide healthy school meals in rural areas of Laos, helping to improve literacy and nutrition among schoolchildren.”

“Through close collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Sports and local authorities, this school meals programme helps 92,000 young students every day get the nourishment they need to do well in school.”

Poole extended his sincere thanks to the Ministry of Education and Sports for their “overall commitment to the students and specifically to the commitment to ensure that students have a healthy meal, so they can learn better in the classroom, and so that they can contribute to a better Laos today and tomorrow”.

Since 2012, the LEAPS project has supported improved attendance, attentiveness, and literacy of schoolchildren in 350 schools in remote areas of seven districts in Savannakhet province.

With funding and commodity support from USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Programme, over 31 million meals have been served to primary school students since the start of LEAPS.

In the current phase of the programme (LEAPS III), school meals include sachi inchi powder and eggs purchased locally in Laos, as well as soymilk purchased regionally in Thailand, which complement the food basket and enhance the nutritional value of school meals.

As part of LEAPS III, the Ministry of Education and Sports and Catholic Relief Services have developed a phased handover approach to ensure the sustainability and quality of school meals. In 2022, 46 schools from Outhomphone graduated to the National School Meals Programme.

This year, in addition to the 44 schools in Phalanxay district, 59 schools in Atsaphone district are also transitioning to the Programme.

In addition to school meals, LEAPS has worked to improve access to water in schools, improve the sanitation and hygiene environment through the installation of latrines and handwashing stations, expand access to early childhood education for pre-primary age students, support communities to adopt improved health, nutrition and agricultural practices, and strengthen school governance and policy support to Government.

In partnership with the Ministry of Education and Sports and Save the Children, LEAPS also supports teacher training and access to classroom materials to improve literacy instruction and learning in the classroom.

The ceremony concluded with a recognition of the challenges and opportunities that await the Lao government and local communities in maintaining and expanding the National School Meals Programme.

All reaffirmed their interest in supporting the Programme, which is consistent with the Education and Sports Sector Development Plan’s commitment of equity and inclusion in education for all.

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Laos , nutrition , USDA , United States , aid , education


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