Documenting a school food program: You live and learn…Lao!

written by: Peggy Jean Craig
posted in: 2011, Laos

June 1, 2011

Before receiving her last take-home ration, a primary school girl signs her name with a fingerprint.

As part of my work here in Laos, I’m filming some of IRD’s programs and interviewing some beneficiaries. This means I get to walk around filming and talking to folks, which is great.

When I first arrived in Laos, I was told the children were out of school for the summer. I was disappointed, since IRD’s Safe Educational Opportunities (SEO) is all about transforming the lives of children through improved school environments, health education, mid-day snacks, take-home rations, and school gardens. The summer break would make it nearly impossible for me to capture SEO in action among the children. On Monday, I received good news. The last distribution of take-home rations for the school year at a school in Sai Buatong district would take place on Tuesday. I would get the footage I needed after all!

Yesterday morning, we left early for Sai Buatong district. When we pulled up to the school, the students were already lining up waiting for the distribution to begin. At least 100 students came to the school dressed in their school uniforms on a day when school was not in session to receive their take-home rations consisting of four bags of rice and a bag of black beans. The female students are given two cans of salmon in addition to the rice and beans.

A teacher at the primary school helps the children gather their take-home rations. Each girl receives four bags of rice, one bag of black beans, and two cans of pink salmon.

The distribution began. As each child’s name was called, the child was fingerprinted to track receipt of the rations, and then given an armful of goodies. It was adorable watching a small 8-year-old girl trying to carry her beans, rice, and salmon all at once. Many of the students helped each other out. One girl would grab one end of the bag and a boy would grab the other end. Together they would shuffle over to the shade to put down the bag. Once in the shade, the children faced the challenge of hoisting their rations onto their bicycles and securing them. I smiled as I watched little boys ride off with bags on the back of bicycles bigger than them.

After the distribution was over, it was time for the best part…interviews! The principal picked two children for me to interview. Additionally, I would speak to a cook who made the mid-day snacks at the school, the head of the district, and the school principal.

A girl at the primary school gathers her take-home rations. With black beans and two cans of salmon already, her hands are too full to carry the rice in the brown bag next to her.

As the noonday sun beat down upon us, I explained to the interviewees and my translator some guidelines for interviewing. First, I would ask the question, then the translator would repeat what I said, and then the interviewee would respond slowly, making sure to pause after finishing a thought so the translator could repeat the interviewee’s answer in English.

Song, one of the mid-day snack cooks and a member of the Lao Women’s Union, was up first. I was so interested in hearing how this school feeding program also brought the community together. Filled with excitement and expectation, I pushed the record button. Everything that could go wrong did. Huge delivery trucks would pass just as Song was answering a question. When she would pause to think, someone off camera would yell, attempting to feed her answers. The translator would interrupt the interviewee, or the interviewee would interrupt the translator. It was the middle of the day. The sun was beating down on us, and my Laotian was not going as far as I would have liked.

Girls at the primary school gather and start loading their bicycles and motorbikes to take home their last ration for the school year.

After Song, I interviewed the head of the district, the principal, and the two children. The children expressed their thanks for the mid-day snacks and take-home rations. The head of the district and the principal raved about the increased school attendance. They explained that before the school feeding program, the children did not come to school regularly. Now, they were coming every school day. The students said since SEO, they were no longer hungry during the school day. It was wonderful to hear how IRD’s Safe Educational Opportunities program has been creating lasting change in the health and lives of this village’s students.

However, interruptions during the interviews continued. Though the interviews and translation were challenging, I shrugged it off with the saying my fellow intern Heather and I doctored: “You live and learn…Lao.”

This entry was posted on June 14, 2011 at 8:00 am and is filed under 2011, Laos. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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