As the WFP car stops at the makeshift school in Houy Khieng, a tiny village in Laos’s southernmost province, 13 of its 14 students get on their feet and run to hide from this surprising intrusion.
My colleague Outhai and I are here to check that the materials have arrived to help their parents build a small warehouse that will store the rice, fish cans and the corn-soya blend for the new nutritious school snack that is soon to be a part of their daily school life.
One student lingers unfazed and chats with us: he is looking forward to this big change in his school. In Phouvong District, one of the poorest in Laos, there are no secondary schools and virtually no opportunities for further schooling after primary education. WFP Laos is working in his school to make sure he can get the most of these primary school years. His parents will receive rice and canned fish rations if he can achieve 80 percent attendance and he will enjoy a daily corn-soya blend snack designed especially to try to address some of the nutritional deficiencies typical in rural Lao diets.
In December 2007, Marilyn Pratt, Community Evangelist from SAP wandered into WFP Laos’s Country Office in Vientiane during a vacation in South East Asia. We talked excitedly of Laos and of WFP’s efforts to get the corn and soya for our school snacks grown and produced in Laos. She offered us the chance to use SAP’s blog to share these stories and strengthen the existing SAP/WFP relationship.
Marilyn proved true to her word, after returning to work in the United States we continued to share ideas and photographs of Laos. In May 2008, WFP Laos published its corn-soya blend local success story and Vanh’s story – the little girl from Oudomxay in Northern Laos who walks over two hours each morning to school – on the SAP FeedingKnowledge website: http://www.sapfeedingknowledge.com/recognition_program_school_fee/
Over eight months later, after returning from Houy Khieng village to my new home in Southern Laos where WFP has just launched the School Feeding Project in three more provinces, I get Balance with the news that SAP, in the name of the SAP Community Network, is donating funds to WFP Laos for our Project.
We talk again in earnest about all the new activities underway to bring School Feeding to the South. Long after we hang up, I still can’t quite believe that the conversation we had all those months before has led to this very real and generous donation. Working in these small dusty communities, where the schools sometimes have no walls and there isn’t always enough to eat, I’m grateful that the stories we shared together helped to move people to a generosity that will help Lao children to get the priceless gift of education. And a thanks to the SAP Community Network whose members cared enough to make this happen.