Whether it rains or the sun is too hot, Ria Rani Das, 10, doesn’t want to miss her school now.
Coming from a very poor family where her parents could hardly afford two meals a day, Ria, a class five student, now knows that food is ready for her in school and she would not go hungry all through the day.
“My parents can hardly serve lunch for me always, let alone the breakfast. Sometimes I may have some parched rice in the morning and have to go hungry the whole day. But now I know for sure that I will not go hungry if I go to the school,” said Ria, who just have finished her mid-day meal her school served.
Her parents are also more convinced now than ever before to send their daughter to school because they know the school provides meals to students, thanks to an Upazila Parishad (UZP) scheme supported by Upazila Governance Project (UZGP).
“I like the food, it’s really delicious and fills my stomach,” said Ria. Her mother is a housewife and her father a rickshaw-puller. They can hardly afford two meals a day for their five kids aged between five to 13.
Like Ria, 500 other Class One to Class Five students are now regularly attending the school enticed by the daily meals they receive. Once dull and empty classrooms of the Nayachilaura Government Primary School in the remotest Chilauradhalipur Union under Jagannathpur Upazila, Sunamganj district, are now buzzing with energetic children fidgeting, chattering and laughing. Some others are trying to read rhymes aloud.
“All these were possible for the fiscal facility grants we got from Upazila Governance Project. With the grants, we, the Jagannathpur Upazila Parishad, took the School Feeding Programme which help attract poor children to enrol and stay at school and thus help increase enrolment rate and reduce dropouts,” says Muktadir Ahmed, Vice-chairman of Jagannath Upazila Parishad.
The UZGP, through its fiscal facility support, provided Tk 4 lakh to the Upazila Parishad (UZP) for implementing the five-month pilot scheme titled “Mid-day Meal for School Student”. The Upazila Parishad launched the programme at Nayachilaura Government Primary School in November 2013 aims at reducing hunger and malnutrition among schoolchildren and help keep poor students at schools.
The “Mid-day meal” is one of the 20 schemes the Jagannathpur Upazila Parishad has undertaken with the fiscal facility grants provided by the UZGP. The project has provided a total of Tk. 53 lakh (approximately 67,948 USD) to UZP by two phases in 2013 for implementing the 20 pro-poor and MDG-focused schemes on education, health and poverty alleviation to accelerate achieving Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) at local levels. The grants are being used by the UZP as additional financial resources, which complement its Annual Development Plan (ADP) grant received from national budget for implementing the schemes.
“When I wake up in the morning, I hurriedly help my mother in household chores so that I can go to school in time. I don’t want to miss the school because I know good food is waiting for me there,” says Laboni, another 11-year-old girl. “I am happy that I can spend the whole day at school learning,” Laboni, who now dreams to be a doctor, said, beaming with smile.
Ranendra Kumar Das, Headmaster of Nayachilaura Government Primary School, said, “The Mid-day meal programme has already started yielding encouraging results. The number of students in the school was 390 last year (in 2013) while it reached to 500 by this year (2014). Enrolment is still going on and we hope that more students will be enrolled soon.
“We have also witnessed the decrease in dropouts and increase in class attendance just because of mid-day meal programme,” he said, adding, “And surprisingly, the enrolment rate of girls’ is also increasing. About 10 per cent more girls are enrolled this year than the last year.”
The European Union (EU), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), UNCDF and UNDP, are providing financial and technical assistance to the project which is being implemented by the Local Government Division (LGD).
Mosharaf Hossain, Education Officer of the Upazila Parishad, said, “The Mid-day meal programme is playing a significant role in bringing more students to the school. Students are now more encouraged to learn and stay more in school.”
“With an empty stomach, the students become easily distracted and have problems concentrating on their schoolwork. The incentive of getting a meal helps them concentrate on learning, reduce absenteeism and dropouts and improve their performance or capacities,” he said, adding, “When the students get home, they no longer presses their parents for food.”
Encouraged by the success of the pilot scheme, the UZP is now planning to expand the programme to other schools in the Upazila to bring more students into classrooms, says the UZP Education Officer.
By Ataul Gani Osmani and Jillur Rahman