VIENTIANE -- Record-breaking sailor and Young Australian of the Year Jessica Watson today announced her support for the United Nations World Food Programme's (WFP) School Meals Programme in Laos, in her role as a Youth Representative for WFP.
In May last year, at the age of 16, Jessica became the youngest person to sail around the world non-stop and unassisted.
In partnership with the Lao Government’s Ministry of Education and Sport, the WFP-assisted School Meals Programme is implemented in 1,500 schools and supports close to 400,000 people, including more than 150,000 pre-primary and primary school children and their families in Phongsaly, Luangnamtha, Oudomxay, Saravane, Sekong and Attapeu provinces.
The media conference was attended by H.E. Vice Minister of Education and Sport Mr Lytou Bouapao, WFP Representative in the Lao PDR Ms Eri Kudo and Jessica Watson, who just returned from a visit to primary schools assisted by the programme.
“We are grateful that Jessica, a sailor who has conquered the world’s oceans, has chosen to support the school children of a land-locked, mountainous country,” said Eri Kudo, WFP Representative for Laos. “Through her journey, Jessica has shown that dreams can become a reality if pursued with hard work and determination, and we welcome her support to help children here in Laos achieve their dreams of getting an education.”
For Jessica the decision to support Laos was simple: “As Youth Representative for WFP, I wanted to be involved with programmes that directly improve the lives of children, and WFP’s School Meals Programme does just that – it keeps more children in school for longer,” she said.
Poor rural children in Laos have little encouragement to complete even primary education. Girls in particular are often expected to bear a heavy workload at home, care for younger siblings and work in the fields. The cost of sending children to school, particularly girls, is high for poor households and education is given low priority. School meals have been shown to be very effective in increasing enrollment and attendance rates in assisted schools, and more children come to school every year in Laos thanks to the programme.
WFP provides a vitamin and mineral fortified snack to primary school children to alleviate short-term hunger and improve concentration at school. The snack also counteracts micro-nutrient deficiencies that are common in rural areas. In addition, students receive take-home family rations as an incentive for parents to send them to school. Children who live too far from school to walk there every day receive extra food rations to support them in their boarding houses.
“The Government of Lao PDR recognizes the effectiveness of school meals to keep children in school, and has included school meals activities in the Education Sector Development Plan for 2011-2015,” said H.E Mr Lytou Bouapao at the media conference. “To achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education, we need sustained assistance from all sectors, and we are grateful that Jessica Watson will gain support for us in Australia.”
During her week-long stay in Laos, Jessica visited schools and communities in the southern Saravane region of Laos. She was welcomed by village elders, met and played with the school children, took part in meal preparation at the schools and even presented a show-and-tell of her ocean voyage to the school children. “The opportunity to meet and talk to the people of Ban Nabone and Ban Na villages has really opened my eyes to the food shortages affecting children in the region. I thank the Ministry of Education and Sport and WFP for coordinating the visit and allowing me to witness the great work being done here.”
Jessica heads home to Australia tomorrow armed and charged to make a difference in these children’s lives. Jessica will raise awareness and funds for the school meals programme, encouraging people in Australia to join her in the fight against child hunger by adding their name on her page at: www.wfp.org/jessica . Jessica has also named WFP as the official charity partner of her Sydney to Hobart race campaign and is planning a fund-raising event for World Food Day on October 14.
WFP is grateful to the governments of United States of America, Australia, Luxembourg, the Republic of Korea, Germany, to corporate partners including YUM! Brands, SAP Germany and TNT, as well as partner organizations such as the Japan Association for WFP and the World Food Program USA for supporting school meals in Laos.