From school meals recipients to future nutritionists
Students are working to reduce malnutrition and hunger in Timor-Leste
Luis and Amandio share a common life goal — to become nutritionists in Timor-Leste. They also share a common past — they both ate school meals as children that were provided by the World Food Programme.
Timor-Leste has some of the highest levels of under-nutrition in the world. The Food and Nutrition Survey in 2013 found that 51% of children are stunted and 37.7% are underweight. This means that children across the country aren’t getting enough nutrients from food in order to be growing as they should.
From grade 4–6, Luis and Amandio went to school each day knowing that at break time, they would be able to eat a warm and healthy meal. They agree that after eating they had more energy to learn and play, and before the meals started they were sleepy and lacked energy.
In mountainous Timor-Leste, it’s common for students to walk long distances to school, and their school meal motivated them to make this journey.
“I started to receive the school feeding programme when I was in grade 4 (around 10–11 years old). I always got excited after the break because I knew there was food coming,” Amandio says. “After I had the meal, I felt like I had more energy and it helped me focus and study better in class.”
“The menu from the school meals programme that I liked the most was the green bean porridge,” says Amandio.
For Luis, the school feeding programme not only gave him energy and motivation to attend classes, it also helped him to feel full and focus on lessons rather than thinking about going home quickly to get food.
“I used to and still do think that the school feeding programme is great, because then I did not have to bring my own food to school and starve waiting for classes,” says Luis.
WFP supported and implemented the school feeding programme in Timor-Leste from 2005 until 2011. Starting from 2012, the Government of Timor-Leste through the Ministry of Education has taken over the responsibility.
Changing the future with food
Inspired to ensure all children have the same opportunities as they did, Luis and Amandio are currently in their second year of dietary and nutrition studies at the National University of Timor-Leste.
They both want to be professional nutritionists and dietitians and to encourage other Timorese to eat nutritious and locally sourced food. Although they admit it is challenging to change people’s eating habits, they have started to apply what they are learning at university with family and friends.
During International Rural Women’s Day and World Food Day in October 2017, Luis, Amandio and other university students held cooking demonstrations and promoted local healthy nutritious food, with the support of WFP.
They also want to make school meals even healthier by adding as many vitamins and minerals as possible. “When I finish my studies and become a professional nutritionist, I want to help improve the quality of the school meals in order to improve the nutrition of the children,” says Amandio.
According to a 2016 monitoring report from the Ombudsman’s Office (Provedoria Diretus Humanus no Justisa — PDHJ) on the implementation of the school feeding programme in Timor-Leste, 86% of the students reported they really liked the meal provided under the programme. WFP’s school meals programme is aimed at improving school attendance, nutritional outcomes and raising awareness of the importance of eating a diverse and nutritionally balanced diet.
Read more about WFP’s work in Timor-Leste.