Malnutrition still impacts many children in Cambodia. Rice, some meat and vegetables is in their diet but seldom fruit and dairy products, because they are not affordable by vulnerable households. Moreover, Cambodians consume excessive amount of salt, sugar, and MSG. Children also drink a lot of energy drinks and sweetened beverages, which can increase their risk of getting diabetes or other chronic diseases in their adulthood. Learning about what we eat and where the food comes from, is the first step toward reducing malnutrition.
Our first step to education around nutrition has started with a pilot school garden project. The “Promoting School Nutrition and Gardening” project was designed and implemented starting in November 2021, by Anthea L., the food, nutrition, and health specialist from the EU Aid Volunteer Program.
The ultimate goal of this project is to prevent and reduce all types of malnutrition among our students and communities. Effective nutrition requires a holistic approach with cross-cutting themes, including WASH and agriculture with a gender-sensitive approach.
Phare collaborated with the CE SAIN (Farmer to Farmers program funded by USAID) and National University of Battambang since November 2021. CE SAIN provided and assigned 3 agricultural experts to Phare between January and April 2022. The experts conducted hydroponic, microgreens and raised beds/vegetable conservation training workshops (theory and practice) to Phare students and staff.
The school garden not only provides the vegetables, but also an environment for the students to learn and grow. The kindergarten students participate in watering the plants, removing the weeds, learning about the health benefits of different plants, and how to grow different plants. They also learn about the varieties of vegetables and legumes that are produced in Cambodia and how it is used in Cambodian cuisine.
Kindergarten students are asked to smell, touch, feel and taste different foods from the 5 food groups: cereal and starchy foods, vegetables, fruits, protein-rich foods, and calcium-rich foods. The creative food art activities allow the toddlers to learn by using their 4 senses to develop not only their imagination, but also their knowledge about food and nutrition. As well, the kindergarten students are taught about hand washing and basic hygiene and sanitation practices, such as cleaning the hands before and after handling foods. The aim of these activities is for the students to apply it at home and be able to replicate it in the community and home.
When the vegetables are ready to be harvested, they are used by the school canteen cook who is in charge of the “Lunch Program”. The most vulnerable students are selected to be part of the lunch program via the sponsorship program, where they enjoy the nutritious meals at Phare.