In Cambodia, school meals and education are playing a crucial role in addressing gender inequality. This is the story of Seng, a girl who faced challenges in her education but found inspiration in the female teachers she saw at her school.
In the early 1990s, Seng struggled to keep up with her classmates in school due to her family’s business of selling rice noodles, sugarcane juice, and ice cream. Eventually, she dropped out of school and started selling snacks at the school gates. However, during this time, Seng noticed a significant increase in the number of female teachers at her school.
Inspired by these women, Seng dreamt of becoming a teacher herself. Although she initially felt incapable due to her academic struggles, she later returned to school with the support of her parents. After years of hard work, Seng’s dream of becoming a teacher came true.
In Cambodia, many children face difficulties in achieving academic success and often drop out of school due to inadequate preparation, poor teaching quality, and irregular attendance. To address this issue, the World Food Programme (WFP) collaborates with the Government of Cambodia to promote gender equality, access to quality education, nutritious diets, and social assistance for children in pre-primary and primary schools.
One of the initiatives includes providing free, nutritious, and tasty school meals. These meals not only serve as an incentive for parents to send their children, especially girls, to school but also motivate students to study. They also contribute to human-capital development, particularly for children from the poorest families, and help break the cycle of poverty.
WFP and the government have been working together to gradually hand over the school meals program to full national ownership. In 2014, they introduced a “home-grown” school feeding model that sources produce from local farmers, ensuring food quality, safety, community ownership, and supporting local economies.
Along with her teaching responsibilities, Seng also serves as a school-feeding committee member, working with other teachers and parents. Their aim is to ensure that children have healthy food to eat and can fully focus on their learning.
While many children worldwide attend school on an empty stomach, negatively affecting their concentration and learning abilities, Seng’s community shows the positive impact of school meals and local commitment. Girls are no longer expected to work in the kitchen, and efforts are made to provide them with knowledge, skills, and motivation to continue their education and pursue their goals.
The story of Seng exemplifies how school meals and education are making a difference in combating gender inequality and empowering girls in Cambodia.