PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – A school meal program run by the World Food Program (WFP) has run out of funds, forcing it to transfer about half of its schools to government care.
“In the 2014-2015 school year, we have 300,000 students that receive sponsorship by the school meal program,” said Kong Kannitha, national program officer, for the United Nations food aid agency.
In 1999, the WFP covered only 62 primary schools and kindergartens in Cambodia, sponsoring school meals for students in rural areas.
Last year, it delivered breakfasts in 4,000 schools. But this year, due to a lack of funding, coverage is being cut in half to about 2,000 public schools.
“This year we have transferred 2,000 schools into the management of the government because of the shortage of funds,” Ms. Kannitha said as a two-day workshop on the project wrapped up at a five-star hotel in Phnom Penh yesterday.
Provinces covered by WFP include some of Cambodia’s poorest: Kampong Speu, Kampong Chhang, Kampong Thom, Stung Treng, Preah Vihear, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Battambang and Pursat.
Ms. Kannitha maintained that children will not be affected by the transfer of school meal programs to the Education Ministry.
“The government also has a policy of providing food scholarships to students, and that is why we are taking this chance to transfer students to them,” she said.
Spending about $20 million each year for the project, Ms. Kannitha said the WFP divides the program into two parts: a breakfast program and a cash or food scholarship.
Faced with budget constraints, WFP skips Phnom Penh schools and only covers schools in provincial areas where nutritional support is highest.
Free breakfast is provided to all students covered by the WFP projects. “We spend $25 for breakfast for each student per academic year,” said Ms. Kannitha.
“We have coordinated with the Planning Ministry to ask for the clarification of the status of poor villagers,” she said. She said that only 15 percent of very poor families with a school child can receive the cash or food scholarship, which amounts to $50 cash or 100 kg rice per year.
The WFP hopes to increase the scholarship to 120 Kg or $60 next year, she added.