School food program feeding bodies and minds

In Myanmar, World Vision is providing food aid and helping kids like Nor Mai stay in school.

Conflict destroys livelihoods and brings hunger

Eight-year-old Nor Mai’s family used to live peacefully in their village surrounded by mountains in Myanmar. But four years ago, fighting erupted between the army and an ethnic armed group. The ongoing conflict has affected their livelihood, leaving the family of 10 hungry.

Before the fighting began, Nor Mai’s father, U Nor Aung, used to work on their rice and vegetable plantation. Now he doesn’t dare go to his plantation, for fear of troops and scattered landmines. It has left his family with no food or source of income.

U Nor Aung risked going into the forest to look for plant roots and shoots, so his family could eat. But as the conflict worsened, he stopped searching the forest and started looking for casual labour jobs to support his family. Now he has to travel far away to find work, and sometimes he is unable to send any money home.

“My husband is working (215 kilometres away),” said Nor Mai’s mother Kawn Nan. “I have heard nothing from him and don’t know how he is doing. I had to pull out my eldest son, Zut Aung, from school to tend his grandpa’s cows and earn money for our family.”

Nor Mai is the fourth among eight siblings and is in Grade 3. His younger brother, Mg Dwella is five years old and in Grade 1. 

“We tried to send our children to school as much as we can. We can hardly read, so we want them to be educated,” Kawn Nan said.

“Sometimes my children went to bed hungry. I didn’t even have porridge to feed them. I tried to soothe them and said we would feed them rice and also buy snacks when their father is back. The older children didn’t cry, but the younger ones fell asleep tired from crying and hunger. It was very painful to see them crying for food,” she said. 

“Sometimes we had to go to school hungry,” Nor Mai said. “At lunchtime, other children returned home to eat, but for my brother and me we had no rice at home, so we just drank water and played at school.” 

Relief for Nor Mai’s family

To support communities affected by the conflict, World Vision began providing monthly food rations to school students in Nor Mai’s village through a Food for Education program.

“Some families received a food ration for one student. But our family received rations for my two sons. This support is a great help for my family. I am very thankful that I don’t even know how to express it in words,” Kawn Nan said.  

“Now we can go to school with a full stomach,” Nor Mai said. “As we have enough rice at home, we can return home to have lunch and return to school happy.” 

The headmistress at his school, Daw Than, has also noticed an improvement. “I found that the school enrolment rate has increased after receiving food assistance from World Vision,” she said. 

“Before, only 60 students enrolled a year. After the rice supply, in the 2014-2015 school year, the enrolment rate increased to 82 and this year, it increased up to 92.”

“I also noticed the enrolment of older children in school. For example, the children who could not go to school at five, are now enrolled in primary school (at age) seven or eight,” she said. 

“Parents are becoming more interested in their children’s education. They have also started to participate in the food management committee and also help to regrow trees, clean the school compound, and participate in the activities to protect children,” she added.

It’s just the boost that a community suffering from ongoing conflict needed. For Nor Mai, he’s just happy that he’s not hungry anymore.