Schools lose student meals as communes no longer tagged 'extremely poor'

By Tran Hoa   September 29, 2021 | 05:44 pm PT
Schools lose student meals as communes no longer tagged 'extremely poor'
Students of Dak Smar Primary and Secondary School for Ethnic Students in Kbang District of Gia Lai Province have lunch at school, September 2021. Photo by VnExpress/Tran Hoa
Teachers in a remote district of Vietnam's Central Highlands are worried students would drop out of schools in the absence of free meals.

At 11:30 a.m., 176 students at Dak Smar Primary and Secondary School for Ethnic Students sit down to their lunch.

Dinh Thi Luyen, a second grader, is full of excitement as she arrives at the table and waits for her food to come.

The Ba Na ethnic minority girl says she loves going to school because she is served good food and does not have to walk all the way back home and return to class every day.

Little does she know, her daily meals at school these days are no longer available and the portion she has been receiving is shared from the allowance provided for other students.

"We feel sorry for students that have lost the allowance and what’s more important, we’re worried they’re gonna quit school now that they’re no longer offered free meals, so this is the only solution we have for now to keep them around," said principal Nguyen The Anh.

Dak Smar School in the eponymous commune lies more than 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the center of Kbang District in Gia Lai Province.

It has around 300 students. Most of them are ethnic Ba Na and come from poor families.

In previous years, Dak Smar Commune was tagged "extremely poor," which means each student attending school is offered VND600,000 ($26.36) and 15 kilos of rice each month.

Teachers also contribute by growing vegetables and raising pigs near the school and raise funds from benefactors to make student meals as nutritious as possible.

However, everything has changed for the 2021-2022 school year as the commune has accomplished several agricultural development targets and turn from "extremely poor" to "poor", except for the commune’s Kroi Village.

For that reason, all students living outside of Kroi Village are no longer allowed to receive the allowance.

The same solution of sharing the allowance to provide meals for all has been applied at other schools across Kbang District.

One of those schools is Krong Secondary School in Krong Commune.

Dinh Hoi, a ninth grader, is among the students who have been offered meals shared via the allowance offered to her friends. Unlike many other students, Hoi is aware of the situation. Upset, she has refused to return to school due to a lack of motivation.

Hoi lives in a village over 10 kilometers from school.

Every Monday, she and her younger sister Dinh Thi Tuyet walk to class together. Tuyet attends a primary boarding school not very far from Hoi’s school.

They stay at school until the weekend, when both are picked up by their father.

The father, Dinh Dam, said if authorities have cut the allowance for both of his children then he and his wife have no choice but to keep the girls at home and send them to work on the farm since they could not afford the school fees plus their daily meals.

"For this new school year, we have already had to borrow money to buy them new clothes," he said.

Kbang District now has 558 students in total without sponsored school meals.

"The district has made a proposal to the provincial authorities to look for other sources to support students and ensure they would not skip class," said Y Phuong, deputy chairman of Kbang District.

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