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Meals for minds: Hatibandha’s school food program

Child and teacher hold fruits

Students were proud to share food with their peers, on behalf of their families.

The school day can be long a tiring for any child, especially on an empty stomach. But, in Hatibandha, Bangladesh – where nearly half of the population earns less than $1 a day – many children attended school until 4pm without enough, or any, food to sustain them. As a result, they found it difficult to concentrate in class and would often leave school early, missing crucial lessons.

In fact, 2/3 of children living in Hatibandha do not complete elementary school and less than 50% of the entire population is literate. Recognizing the importance of education in achieving a better life, the community identified an opportunity for change.

During March of 2014, teachers and parents of 180 students from a local primary school, along with members of a newly-formed School Management Committee, prompted the idea of a mid-day meal program. Thanks to the support of our Community Sponsorship donors, Plan was able to support the initiative and mobilize a plan of action.

Hungry for change

To start, parents were asked to offer a contribution every day, whether it be rice, vegetables, firewood or time as a volunteer to do the cooking – a request they were more than willing to fulfill.

“I welcomed this initiative,” said Hasna, 39, a mother from the village. “I provided rice, vegetables, and necessary items to cook food for my children. Now I am tension-free, as my child is no longer hungry at school.”

And it was not just the parents and teachers of the school who were eager to get involved: much to everyone’s delight, the project was met with huge enthusiasm by the entire community! Locals and business owners approached the team, offering a wide range of items including ingredients like salt, oil, utensils and spices. They even committed to donating monthly cash and construction materials – like bamboo – for building a viable kitchen within the school.

In the end, the school collected all of the equipment and supplies needed to construct a proper kitchen at the school, complete with a stove and hand washing devices to ensure proper sanitation.

Feeding minds, strengthening communities
Students eat lunch at school.

180 students now have a balanced, healthy meal every day of the school week.

By the end of March, 2014 – in just a month’s time – parents, community members, and even the local Member of Parliament attended an inaugural event, marking the first – but certainly not the last – time the school’s students received a nutritious lunch.

“Yesterday my mother had given me a pumpkin, which grew in our courtyard and I brought it for my teacher to cook. I enjoyed the pumpkin meal with my friends,” said Nishi, 11, a grade 5 student who also appreciates the communal and social aspects of the meal-based project.

To ensure the longevity of the program and the health and well-being of these children, Plan continues to support teachers in tracking impact by monitoring the growth of the students – both physically (weight, height, eye sight) and mentally (retention rates, engagement with course material). According Babita, who is in grade 4 at the primary school, children have already seen the benefits – absorbing more nutrients, knowledge, and energy.

“Now, I am very happy to attend school. I don’t feel bored or unmindful during class because I have a meal every day at school,” said Babita.

Thanks to generous donors, Hatibandha’s community sponsorship is fully funded.

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