Thanks to generous donations from RCMA over the last six years, many school children in the Himalayan nation of Bhutan can look forward to a better life.
In the remote, mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan, bordered to the north by China and to the south, east, and west by India, children face enormous obstacles to obtaining an education. Typically, they must walk two to six hours just to get to school — often on an empty stomach. As a result, students often build makeshift shanties near school buildings to serve as temporary housing. Living unsupervised and without plumbing, electricity, cooking, or sanitation facilities leaves children at acute risk of malnutrition, disease, and abuse.
The United Nations World Food Program uses a simple but effective program, School Meals, to help keep children in school, address the threat of malnutrition, support family income, and protect students' well-being in Bhutan. Through this program, WFP serves daily nutritious meals to students in school and provides safe, supervised boarding facilities where possible to ensure that students' basic needs are adequately met so that they can take advantage of the chance to gain an education.
Over the past six years, RCMA has generously provided $600,000 to support School Meals in Bhutan. Each $100,000 enabled WFP to provide about 350,000 school meals to children, making a significant impact in their lives, according to Derry Deringer, director of corporate relations, WFP U.S.A.
“RCMA and its members are helping Bhutan's children break out of the intergenerational cycle of poverty and hunger and to begin a positive cycle of opportunity, “ Deringer says. “We are very grateful for their support.”
WFP's assistance to Bhutan began in 1974 with a School Meals program that reached just over 1,000 students. Today the program has expanded to provide more than 35,000 students with daily, nutritious, in-school meals each year. Moreover, the promise of regular meals gives families an economic incentive to enroll children in school and to maintain their attendance, eliminating the cost of providing a meal at home.
In the classroom, school meals serve a dual purpose for students. For many of the children, this is the only meal of the day. It is also what enables them to concentrate in class, as hunger impedes the ability to concentrate. With School Meals, WFP has seen attendance rates increase dramatically. Concentration improves, performance rises, and many schools see increases in grade completion and graduation rates.
With millions of meals distributed, dozens of new school gardens constructed, kitchen and food storage facilities built, and student boarding homes in place, school enrollment in Bhutan reached 93 percent in 2010, and attendance hit 92 percent. The pass rate in WFP-assisted schools in Bhutan was 92 percent in 2009, according to WFP.
In addition to these grassroots successes, the Bhutanese government has increased its role in management of the School Meals program. In 2010, the government took over operations in 12 schools in Bhutan, following the model, methods, and practices set up by WEP. (WFP has already handed over School Meals operations in 42 countries, establishing local, sustainable hunger solutions in some of the poorest corners of the world.)
“So often we hear of failed attempts to help those less fortunate in other countries,” remarks RCMA CEO/Executive Director Dr. DeWayne Woodring. “But RCMA members really are making an enormous difference in the lives of children in Bhutan. We're an organization whose members and leadership are putting our beliefs as people of faith to work by reaching out across the world to help those less fortunate.”