‘All of my children get enough to eat’

Meet the women who are helping Cambodian children to eat, learn and thrive

WFP Asia & Pacific
May 3, 2018 · 5 min read

This year, more than 280,000 children in Cambodia will arrive at school knowing that a warm meal and a full stomach are waiting for them. For many students, this is their main, and most nutritious, meal of the day.

Two girls in Siem Reap province enjoy their lunch. Photo: WFP/Jessica Lawson

More than 70% of the country’s population live in rural areas, and farmers are the most food insecure people in the country. Addressing hunger and malnutrition in Cambodia is impossible without supporting rural communities.

School meals are an important step , as they ensure locally produced and nutritious food is accessible to some of the country’s most vulnerable people. They also offer a powerful incentive for parents to send their children to school and can improve their education and employment opportunities.

Behind the scenes, thousands of women are working to make sure that healthy food reaches the people who need it the most. Parents, farmers, teachers, suppliers and cooks are helping to feed thousands of children each day.

Meet some of the women who are working to make this possible.

A farmer in Oddar Meanchey prepares vegetables to send to a local school. These will be eaten by students within 24 hours. Photo: WFP/Jessica Lawson

Thida — the supplier

Underneath Thida’s house, she has a desk, a calculator, a motorbike and phone numbers written in chalk on the wooden beams around her. This is all she needs to supply 10 schools with food each morning.

Thida has been collecting meat, fish, vegetables and eggs from local farms for the last three years, and all of it comes from within a short drive of her home. This fresh, locally-grown food isn’t just helping students, but is bringing a much-needed source of income to her community.

Thida collects vegetables from local farms each day to ensure they are fresh. Photo: WFP/Jessica Lawson

“The important thing about producing vegetables is that the household must eat first. The families must have quality vegetables to eat and the second priority is they can get an income and reduce their expenses.”

“I consider hygiene to be the most important thing. I only collect vegetables in villages where I know the farmer. I know they don’t use chemicals. It is better to use local food.”

By supplying food for the World Food Programme (WFP), Thidar has also taken control of her household expenses. “When I return from collecting vegetables, I cook for my husband. I do more than him every day. I work very hard. I’m the one who controls the income and everything in the house,” she said.

Tho Chetra — the farmer

“I grow the vegetables myself — many kinds. Eggplant, watermelon, winter melon, gourds, spinach and morning glory. I supply to four schools. In total in one day I provide 18 kg of vegetables and 12.5 kg of meat or fish.

“I never collect food from other farmers, just from my gardens. I am very happy to supply vegetables to the schools because I can earn an income.”

Chetra and her husband now have a successful business, and plans to grow it. Photo: WFP/Jessica Lawson

Chetra’s food helps hundreds of students to eat a healthy and diverse meal each day. But it has also helped her to become an entrepreneur and build a successful business. “By selling vegetables to the schools and local markets we bought a plot of land to build a house. We will move our house to the new location and use our old plot of land as a vegetable garden,” she said.

Chetra met her husband overseas, after they both migrated to earn additional income. Now they are back in Cambodia, the money they are making from their farm is an incentive to remain. “Now I have a job and can support my family here,” she said.

Mok Phorn — mother

“I live about 1 kilometre from the school, and all of the children walk each day. I accompany them every morning. My husband is a labourer, and he doesn’t earn a regular income. When he doesn’t work, we don’t have any money.”

“School meals started at this school in 2010. All of my children get enough to eat here. When they come home after school they are full. It has really helped our family. They don’t eat again until dinner time. It reduces our family expenses. They like the food very much.”

Mok Phorn and four of her children who currently eat their main meal at school. Photo: WFP/Jessica Lawson

Ke Soth — school cook

Ko Soth wakes up at 4am each day, and arrives at work in the dark to cook for 319 students. Her daughter is a teacher at the school and cooking is her way of helping both her family and children in her local school.

“Because my grandchildren study here, I am willing to help the community. I don’t have a job to do after this, I stay at home and look after my grandchildren. Even when my grandchildren pass the exams for secondary school, I still want to cook here until I’m old. I will work until I have to stop.”

Ke Soth is committed to working for a school cook for as long as she can. Photo: WFP/Jessica Lawson

Yem Sa — School Principal

“I used to be a student at this school, but there were no school meals then. I used to buy some fried bananas on my way to school, or some local cakes.”

“The school meals programme is very useful because families don’t need to spend their money on other food or snacks. Students don’t have enough food to eat at home, so it makes them so happy when they attend class. They concentrate more in class after eating the meals. They like the food, and the vegetables change, depending on what is in season.”

“I want the students to come to school to get knowledge. I don’t want to see students at home and not learning and not studying.”

Principal Yem Sa is committed to helping children to stay healthy. Photo: WFP/Jessica Lawson

WFP’s homegrown school meals programme was launched in Cambodia in 2014. In the last four years, it has rapidly grown from supporting children in two schools to 205. Students across the country are now eating fresh food that is grown in their local communities, and prepared by a dedicated group of volunteer cooks.

WFP is working together with Cambodia’s Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport to continue the school meals programme into the future, and expand into even more schools.

Cambodia’s school meals programme is made possible with support from the Government of Cambodia, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Government of Australia and private donors including Tencent, Master Card, Michael Kors, FEED and LDS.

Learn more about our work in Cambodia.

Story written by Jessica Lawson

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme