BAJHANG - From a distance, Sunkuda village, nestled on the top of a hill amidst the sloping meadows and terraced fields with mountains in the backdrop, is a visual treat for one’s eyes.
As you step in, it doesn’t take too long to witness the tough life of people in this stunning yet poverty-stricken village, where access to basic services like electricity, market, health and sanitation is minimal.
Among the scattered mud-and-stone built houses on the hill, a one story building with white walls and blue roof stands out from the rest – a signature of WFP’s support. This is Bhumiraj Primary School, where around 130 children are studying from grade 1 -5.
Things were not rosy when the school came into operation more than a decade ago, according to Yagya Raj Joshi, the headmaster of the school.
“Our school had a poor history. There were only 20 students when the school came into operation 16 years ago. We struggled to manage the resources and children had a difficult time focusing on their studies,” said Joshi.
The school saw a gradual increase in the enrollment of children after WFP’s school meals were introduced six years ago. Today, the majority of the children are able to attend the school instead of helping parents with household chores.
“The physical environment of the school was not ideal for children. They used to study lying on a dusty ground under the open sky. When there was rain or too much sun they would simply run away,” recalled Yagya Raj Joshi, the headmaster of the school.
The school got a new life in 2012 when WFP partnered with the German development agency, GIZ, and started investing in improving school infrastructure to create conducive learning environment under the School Support Programme funded by the USDA McGovern-Dole project.
The programme included the assets creation component, complementing the School Meals Programme under which, the parents of the children worked in small scale infrastructure construction of the schools, receiving WFP food and/or cash as wage in return for their work in building the school infrastructure. At the same time, GIZ provides technical expertise and material cost for the construction and rehabilitation of school building, kitchen, compound walls and latrines.
With a newly constructed three-room building, a proper kitchen is installed with an improved cooking stove for cooking school meals, and separate toilets for boys and girls, the school has got a new face. Children no longer study sitting on the floor as their classrooms are equipped with desks and benches.
“We were always struggling to keep children comfortable and safe in the school. Without WFP and GIZ support we would have had to wait for many years to have a proper building and furniture. We simply could not afford it,” said Joshi.
In 2012, the School Support Programme reached more than 60 primary schools in rural villages of Bajhang and the neighbouring district Baitadi, benefitting over 10,000 young children with improved learning environment for quality education and better performance of children.
“We (WFP and GIZ) worked together in the school support programme targeting those areas where there was a high level of food insecurity and most households have agricultural produce hardly enough for five to six months,” said Kumar KC, GIZ’s district programme officer. “The programme worked very well and has empowered the local community.”