In the mountainous lands of Lao People’s Democratic Republic, three-quarters of families sustain their livelihood with agriculture, mostly by cultivating rice. In this landlocked country — whose rural population is spread across 10,000 villages — the World Food Programme (WFP) assists nearly 100,000 people, including school-aged children.
The Luang Namtha region, in the north of Lao PDR, is home to hundreds of villages, big and small, where people are no longer able to sell their produce — or send their children to school — because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Thongvan Sanyase is a WFP field staffer there.
He explains how WFP is distributing food rations to parents of schoolchildren at Langkan village in Luang Namtha. “This is an ethnic village, people who live here belong to the Akha ethnic group,” he says. “Typically, people here are sugarcane and root-vegetable farmers.”
When the Lao Government ordered schools to close two months ago to prevent the spread of coronavirus, WFP’s school meals programme was interrupted, so the organization facilitates take-home rations to provide critical nutrition to schoolchildren.
Parents pick up food rations — composed of rice, lentils, fish cans and cooking oil — at the school. As they arrive at the food distribution area, WFP staff takes their temperature and everyone has to wash their hands upon entering.
“Today, every student receives 2.77 kg of rice, 2 kg of lentils, two cans of fish and 400 ml of cooking oil,” says Thongvan Sanyas. “These items are all highly nutritious as a base for meals. The students who are receiving them will be healthy and strong.”
Below, two of the people who benefit from WFP take-home rations share their stories.
“Life was so hard during the lockdown,” says Thone, an agricultural day labourer from Huakhua village, Luang Namtha province.
“I could not leave my village to work on the cassava farm. I went to the forest and the river to find food for my family, but often, we went to bed hungry.”
She adds: “We don’t have enough rice from our upland farm to make it through the year, and without my income, we are in real trouble. The food from WFP stretches our supplies a few weeks longer.”
“I’m so worried about what will happen if the lockdown continues,” says Boungpheng from Lang Pha village, Luang Namtha province.
She adds: “The rice, lentils, fish and cooking oil we received from WFP are enough to help us cope for a few weeks. That’s a big help already until we find ways to earn some income in these difficult times.”
The World Food Programme is grateful to the Government of Japan and the Government of the United States of America for making critical food distributions in Lao PDR possible.