USDA Support Improves Educational Outcomes in Cambodia

  |   Feature

By Son Siveth, Project Manager, International Relief & Development

A two-hour boat ride on a warm breezy day takes us to Prey Kri Choeung Primary School, near the base of a rocky mountain in Prey Kri Tbong village in Cambodia’s Kampong Chhnang Province. There, Rath Khemra, a local Food for Education field monitor with the non-profit International Relief & Development (IRD), stops by to attend a local school support committee meeting. The schoolmaster, Hung Phalla, tells the group how delighted she is that USDA’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education program is contributing to significant improvements in her school. She notes the increased school attendance and enrollment rates of school-aged children and their teachers. “All of this has made for much better education in my school,” she says, adding that “the physical appearance of the students is healthier as well.”

IRD implements the USDA Food for Education program in 125 schools in Kampong Chhnang Province by providing healthy on-site meals and take-home rations. The meals consist of corn-soy blend and vitamin A- fortified soybean oil, which are donated under USDA’s McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, as well as salt, spices or palm sugar, and raisins or other fruit, which are procured locally. The dish is similar to the rice-based ba bor, a traditional Cambodian breakfast food. Take-home rations include USDA-donated beans and canned salmon. IRD also works with community volunteers to provide safe transportation to school for girls from remote and flood-prone villages in the province.  

Prey Kri Choeung Primary School was selected for assistance in 2009 because its needs were so dire: student and teacher absenteeism was high, children were hungry at school, and enrollment was low. IRD coordinated with the education authorities at the provincial, district, and school levels to provide the daily meals and train volunteer cooks. The school support committee donated a kitchen shelter, cooking pans, a stove, and ingredients such as sugar and salt. IRD trained the teachers and school masters to keep records of student and teacher attendance. After building water and sanitation infrastructure in schools, IRD used traditional puppet shows to educate students and teachers about basic nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation. Following the shows, IRD also distributed hygiene kits consisting of soap, toothpastes, toothbrushes, shampoos and other basic hygiene supplies.

Non Prounh, a village leader and chief of the school support committee, says “Most parents now want their children enrolled by age six.” He said that while the food is a strong incentive, once in school “the children are more attentive in class because they are not hungry.” 

IRD, together with the government education authority, faith-based organizations, village chiefs, and commune councils, conducted an enrollment campaign to alert parents of the value of education and to encourage them to enroll their children in school. Prior to the campaign, IRD trained the school support committee, community activists, and teachers how to use communication materials, such as banners and posters, to solicit community contributions and promote parent involvement.  

“Before, many parents had stopped sending their children to school once they completed primary education. But after the campaigns, many have changed their attitudes and now support their children to continue to secondary school.” says Pov Rein, a parent representative. 

McGovern-Dole Food for Education Project in Cambodia, Key Successes 2009-2011:  

  • The number of students completing primary education increased 89 percent, from 1,235 to 2,328. 
  • Enrollment of school-aged children increased by 70 percent, from 1,794 to 3,044.
  • School attendance among boys increased from 75 percent to 84 percent, and among girls, from 80 percent to 88 percent. 
  • Before the start of the project, only 54 percent of teachers had perfect attendance. By year two, that percentage increased to 96. 
  • 24,000 students received education on basic nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation each year.
  • Up to 50,000 parents and community members participated in awareness campaigns on the advantages of education.