Malnutrition has been aptly dubbed the hidden pandemic, with millions of children across the world dying from poor nutrition and hunger – a situation made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Today, as millions of children return to school, they carry the “triple burden of lost learning, increased poverty, and malnutrition,” noted
Kevin Watkins, a former CEO of Save the Children UK.
Cambodia is one country that has been plagued with malnutrition. According to UNICEF
, one in ten Cambodian children under five years old suffers from wasting — also known as acute malnutrition. Citing the 2021 Cambodia Demographic Health Survey, the agency said childhood stunting had gone down from 34 percent to 22 percent between 2014 and 2021. However, wasting has remained unchanged at 10 percent. Amid soaring food prices, food insecurity in the country has worsened.
Now dozens of learning gardens across the country are showing the way to boost food security in poor communities, reports Deutsche Welle
. At the learning gardens, set up with help from global rights group Plan International
, students happily learn how to grow food and test their math skills as they weigh their harvests. They also eat the vegetables grown in the garden with the free breakfast of rice and fish soup that they are served before each day’s lessons.
Vireak, 12, told DW that he was happy to eat at school with his classmates. “I feel stronger and smarter, and I can learn things much easier than before,” he said.
Watkins urged governments to “commit themselves to the goal of universal provision of free school meals” at this month’s Transforming Education Summit
. “There is overwhelming evidence that school feeding can increase attendance, reduce dropout rates, and improve learning outcomes, especially for the poorest children,” he said.
He cited India’s Midday Meal scheme — the world’s largest school feeding program — whose benefits extend beyond education and across generations. “Recent evidence has shown that girls covered by the [scheme] also married and had children later and made greater use of health services,” he wrote.