Meet Keo — a school meals graduate
Helping the next generation of Laos students to reach their full potential
Set against the backdrop of misty mountains contrasted by lush green rice fields, Luang Namtha is one of the most beautiful places in northern Laos. It’s home to a diverse number of ethnic minority groups scattered in small, remote villages.
It’s also home to 20-year-old Keo, an ethnic Akha woman, who was one of the first recipients of the World Food Programme (WFP)’s school meals programme when it launched in 2002. Keo, along with 50,000 other children in northern Laos, grew up eating a daily meal of rice, canned fish, oil, lentils and Corn Soya Blend fortified with micro-nutrients to help the students to stay healthy.
A new way of eating and learning
“When I was a child, I usually went to school very early in the morning. I never ate breakfast at home. Fortunately, during lunch breaks, our teacher used to give us fortified (corn-soy) snacks for us to eat. Exactly at the right time to kill our hunger, it helped us to better focus on our studies and made me want to go to school every day,” she explained.
“I felt very happy to receive support from the World Food Programme. My parents always reminded me that I should go to school, and if I do not go, I will not be able to receive rice and canned fish. And that was another reason why I wanted to go to school.”
“WFP’s support had had a great impact on the people in my community, especially for poor families,” Keo said.
This was the first school feeding programme in Laos. It was launched to reduce hunger so that children could concentrate in class. The meals were also an incentive to increase the number of children who were enrolled in schools, particularly girls. With the school meals programme, families saw the benefits of sending their children to school, and enrollment rates improved.
Today, WFP is working to improve attendance levels and the quality of education that children receive. Literacy activities have been introduced to ensure that children, even in remote areas, are given the best start to life.
The programme has grown in the last 16 years. It now supports 145,000 students in 30 districts across the country.
“When I was a child, I wanted to become a teacher,” Keo explained. In July 2018, she achieved her dream and graduated from a teacher training college. “I decided to further my education and go back to teach in my home village after graduation.” Keo plans to use her language skills to help the next generation of children in her community.
Keo’s ethnic group, Akha, is one of the most left behind ethnic groups in Laos, with female literacy levels at 35% compared to over 70% among the majority Lao ethnic group.
“Most Akha children do not know the Lao language. With [ethnic] Lao teachers, school children have a difficult time learning the [Lao] language… I believe I can teach them better because I am Akha and I know both languages. I want to see children become good students and I want to see my village develop as well.”
Watch Keo’s story
Story written by Vilakhone Sipaseuth
Read more about WFP’s work in Laos.