Helping Chay put her hair in a bundle, Vu A Binh is still amused at times to see his youngest daughter’s enthusiasm to go to school.
Just over a year ago, little Chay much preferred following her siblings around rather than getting up at five and hiking to class. But then, going to school became a lot more fun, especially as she knew she would be fed hot meals with meat and vegetables.
Chay’s school in Na O village is among those participating in the VSF's Growing up with mountainous preschool students project.
Meagre meals, difficult lives
Being 172km away from the province’s centre, Bao Lam remains Cao Bang’s most remote and difficult district, where 76.6 per cent of its residents are classified as poor and near-poor. Due to the land’s challenging terrain, local schools have to establish various teaching locations so that children from ethnic minority communities and isolated villages can attend.
Located in both the 30A Programme and 135 Programme areas that need special attention in terms of poverty eradication, Thai Son and Thach Lam preschools also took this splitting approach to accommodate the disadvantaged students, all of whom were of Hmong and Dao ethnicity.
Despite the schools’ efforts, many children aged 3-5 still had to walk 5-6km through the hills along dirt paths to get to school. Greeting them was a very basic lunch containing only plain rice if they were lucky or men men – a steamed minced corn staple in these mountainous areas.
Often, the food would spoil in the summer heat, forcing many of the students to return home for lunch – 80 per cent of whom would not return for the afternoon class due to the long and difficult route.
|Preschool students in Bao Lam district usually only had steamed men men or plain rice for lunch |
“We only had men men at home every morning,” said Giang Thi My while helping her son Phung prepare for school in Khau Noong.
Having just steamed men men for every meal, sometimes with plain vegetable soup, Phung looked as if he was just three even though he had turned five earlier this year. Phung was diagnosed with malnutrition.
His situation was unfortunately common, as many of the students in Bao Lam’s teaching locations were under the recommended weight and height that is specified by the National Institute of Nutrition, according to a recent survey done by the Ministry of Education.
Meals that foster the will to gain knowledge
From 2020, with the support of individuals, organisations, and businesses in Vietnam and abroad, the VSF has been implementing the Growing up with mountainous preschool students project at five locations in Thai Son and Thach Lam, along with another in Son La, to bring over 211,000 free nutritious meals to more than 700 students.
For the past three years, the project has replaced the cold plain men men with hot lunches of white rice, meat, vegetables, and hot soup, along with afternoon snacks like porridge and noodles – all prepared according to the national guidelines for school nutrition. Each meal costs VND9,500 (40 US cents), making it VND1.7 million ($70.80) to sponsor a student’s meal plan for a whole school year.
|Children enjoying their nutritious free school lunch |
Thanks to the hot lunches, the health and stature of the students at all five locations improved significantly, with all gaining height and weight. At the end of the school year, Phung was removed from the malnutrition list.
Like many of his classmates, his favourite meal was sautéed minced pork with carrots, and he was already looking forward to the next school year.
The hot lunches also helped foster the students’ will to stay in school, completely erasing the afternoon dropout rate that stood at 80 per cent before the project’s launch.
“The children eat better than they do at home, and can then play with their friends, so they love going to school. Before the project, we often only had around 12 students, but now all of our 33 students never miss a class, rain or shine,” said Nong Thi Tuyet, a teacher at Thach Lam preschool.
In addition to providing nutritious meals, the project also aims to improve the conditions in the schools by renovating their water systems, building school kitchens, and providing warm blankets and school supplies.
|Along with the year-round sponsored lunches, the VSF also organises annual trips to the beneficiary locations and brings additional supplies for the students |
Tran Thi Nhu Trang, director of the VSF said, “The Growing up with mountainous preschool students project, along with our other initiatives to improve children’s welfare, shows the commitment of VSF and our partners to provide timely and practical support for children in disadvantaged areas, helping them access opportunities to grow up healthily and happily and reach their full potential.”
Nong Van Long, a teacher at Thai Son preschool added, “On behalf of all the teachers, parents, and students, I would like to send our sincere gratitude to the project for bringing nutritious, loving meals to our children. We hope that the project will carry on its mission to support more children over the coming school year and spread this goodwill to even more teaching locations in the future.”
For the 2023-2024 academic year, the VSF will continue to sponsor five teaching locations in Cao Bang. Since 2022, the VSF has expanded the Growing up with mountainous preschool students project to Son La and provided school lunches for 116 students with difficult backgrounds at Chieng Khoa Primary and Secondary School in Van Ho commune.
Since its launch in 2020, the project has received monetary donations, along with time, expertise, and efforts, from 263,365 individual sponsors and 18 gifts from corporations, organisation partners, and groups, amounting to a budget of more than VND1 billion ($41,670). This encouraging community engagement and participation highlights the project’s special meaning and its message of love and goodwill.
| ||For Vietnamese Stature encourages ethnic minority students to pioneer gender equality |
On October 1, the For Vietnamese Stature Foundation (VSF) organised the Autumn Camp – Breaking the Prejudice Circle programme at Ban Lau primary school in Muong Khuong district of the northern province of Lao Cai. Forty ethnic minority students had a memorable day with seven experiential activities.
| ||Promoting equality through the voices of ethnic minority youths |
The No voice - No equal future project that was implemented in Son La province in 2023 is encouraging ethnic minority youths and young journalists to become agents of change and help to reduce inequality. The project is run by the For Vietnamese Stature Foundation (VSF) and sponsored by the US Embassy to Vietnam and the Moon of Hope fundraising programme.
| ||Promoting equality through voices of ethnic minority youth and journalists |
After four months of implementation, the No voice, No equal future project has carried out six activities and had a positive impact on nearly 2,000 young people from ethnic minorities.