WFP supports the Royal Government of Bhutan in its policy of improving access to education by providing daily meals to school children particularly to those from poor and food insecure families in remote areas. This activity supports the nationwide trends of increased enrolment and attendance rates and reduced dropout rates. The provision for meals also improves the short term nutritional status of school going children and thus supports their concentration and cognitive capacities.
Tashi Jamtsho is a nine years old boy studying in class II in Yelchen Community Primary School, which is about four hours walk from the end of a farm road in one of the poorest districts of Bhutan, Pemagatshel.
Tashi has one elder sister and one younger sister. Tashi never saw his mother who passed away when he was a child, so he was brought up by his father and grandmother, who works in the field everyday to sustain their livelihood.
After returning from school, Tashi often helps his grandma in her domestic chores and in tending the cows.
Tashi wakes up early to catch the nutritious breakfast of rice with chickpeas after walking for about two hours. At school, he enjoys being with his friends, playing with them and eating the two meals provided by WFP. Tashi, little as he may be, was eloquent in expressing his appreciation of the meals that he (and the school) started to receive from April 2010. Prior to that, Tashi was not able to bring his lunch, and spent his lunch hour on the school veranda, watching others eat. He did not play either, because he said it made him hungrier!
Tashi likes to go to school because he says he get food which is delicious and enough. Tashi’s favorite subject is Mathematics.
Tashi dreams to be a driver because there are many from the area who ended up being a truck driver. Still, Tashi do have a dream, and that is where food acts as a facilitator to realize children’s dreams.
The principal of the school was no less eloquent about the benefits of the meals. It has reduced the concern and stress on children of what to eat as lunch time approached. There are tangible results in pass rate. Prior to the provision of meals, there were irregularities in attendance because often children went back home halfway to the school if they were late. But today the children were never late for the school. The provision of meals also reduced illness, improved attendance, health and hygiene, gave more time for games and sports and children became physically active and attentive in the class.
Education in Bhutan is a success story: net enrolment at primary level has increased from 53% in 1998 to 93% in 2010. However, there are challenges ahead, with still the net primary enrolment figure in many of the poor, especially remote, off the road areas of certain districts remaining below average. These people are mostly those who are the least food secure and encounter seasonal hunger periods. Donors and WFP can therefore still make a difference by assisting the Royal Government of Bhutan to achieve the most important Millenium Development Goals in 2015: Education for All.