’No one can teach or learn for an entire day without food’
From being home schooled to becoming the Deputy Director of the Department of Education in Nepal, Babu shares his story.
Dr. Babu Ram Dhungana, Monitoring Manager of Nepal’s Department of Education shares his story. Babu shares memories from his early childhood to his first visit back to his school in 34 years, where he attended the Food and Nutrition Fair. The fair was organized as part of a collaboration between the Department of Education and the World Food Programme with funding from the United States Department of Agriculture.
I was home schooled in my village until I was in grade five, as we didn’t have a formal school in the village where I grew up. Every morning around 15 students of different ages and abilities gathered for a few hours to study literacy, taught by a Pandit (a Hindu scholar), usually in the open air.
I only enrolled in Saraswati Middle School (currently known as Saraswati Secondary School) when I was older. It was the only school in the area back then. I would walk at least four hours a day from my home to school and back — nearly a whole day without a proper meal.
In the early days of my schooling, I used to bring two bowls of popcorn as a snack, and hide it under a stone along the path to school, as I didn’t have enough to share with the other students. I remember one afternoon on my way home, searching for the popcorn with a hungry stomach. To my disappointment, there had been a wildfire that day, and there was nothing but ashes left of my popcorn.
Although I only started studying English from grade five, I was one of the highest performing students in my class right until 10 grade. After completing my School Leaving Certificate (SLC), I moved to Kathmandu for higher studies, completed my Master’s Degree from Tribhuvan University, and then joined the civil service. After 10 years of working as a government employee, I was offered an opportunity to do a second Master’s Degree at Mahidol University in Bangkok. Upon my return, I was appointed Under Secretary of the Ministry of Education.
I have worked in various districts as a District Education Officer to maintain my educational leadership. Later, I got the opportunity to pursue an international doctorate in Inclusive Education in South-Korea, which led me to my current role as Monitoring Manager for the Department of Education. While studying in Thailand and South-Korea, I saw the midday meal as a regular part of the school program for students of all ages.
Over the years I have seen positive changes in my village and community. Farmers who have been encouraged to cultivate cash crops have increased their incomes and can feed their families on a regular basis.
I am pleased to have gotten a chance to observe the midday meal pilot initiative supported by the WFP. The pilot which focuses on improving the management and efficiency of the Ministry of Education’s cash transfer for school meals is well aligned for the development of a sustainable, nationally-owned school meals programme. The linkages between local farmers cooperatives with schools, as they supply their fresh produce to local students is particularly promising.
One thing I have learned from my personal experience is that no one can teach or learn for an entire day without food. Learning cannot help someone with a hungry stomach to reach their full potential.
The midday meal pilot initiative reaches two districts in Sindhupalchowk and Bardiya. It covers over 30 schools and 3,600 students. With funding from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) the pilot intervention focuses on technical assistance and capacity strengthening activities for the Nepal Government’s School Meals Programme. Overall the National School Meals Programme reaches more than 650,000 students in some of the most remote areas and food insecure areas of Nepal.
Read more about WFP’s work in Nepal.