In rural Cambodia, youngsters from poor families are often pulled out of school to work in the fields, as their parents struggle to make ends meet. But a programme of school meals and take-home rations is keeping children – especially girls like Ry Srei Net – in school.
by Terri Eastoe
PHNOM PENH -- Ry Srei Net gazes out the window of her Grade 6 classroom in Boeng Preah commune in North Western Cambodia, waiting for lessons to start. At 14 years old, and one of six children, she’s lucky to be where she is and not out in the fields, labouring to help her family make ends meet. That's what her brothers and sisters are doing.
Acutely aware of this privilege, Srei Net dedicates every spare moment to studying. She was placed third out of 30 students last year and she particularly enjoys learning her favourite subject, the Khmer language.
Hopes to be a teacher
WFP has played an integral role in shaping her life. Her parents were very happy and proud when they were informed that she would receive a take–home ration from WFP for going to school. Her parents are in their 40s and finding work in the rice fields increasingly tough: they are often sick and her father has one arm crippled from a stroke.
Outside of harvest time, her parents move to Phnom Penh to work as casual laborers, leaving the children home to look after themselves. Unlike her older siblings who stopped studying at Grades 3 and 5, Srei Net has been able to continue and will soon complete primary school – thanks to her good grades and the food provided by WFP, which acts as a powerful incentive to keep her in school.
Rewards for attendance
Srei Net has been receiving a take-home ration since she was in Grade 4. She hopes to complete Grade 9 so that she may go on to secondary school and one day become a teacher.
Every month Srei Net receives 15kg of rice, 2kg of yellow split peas, and 1kg of Vitamin A-enriched vegetable oil for having a minimum 80 percent attendance rate at school. The food helps to feed her and her brothers and sisters, especially when the parents are away. Srei Net acknowledges that if she wasn’t receiving the take-home ration, her parents would want her to stop school to work in the fields and help look after the younger children at home.