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How a simple lunchbox can help keep a Nepali child in school

While many of us retain mixed memories of eating lunch at school, we are doubtless in agreement of the fact that having a meal halfway through the day kept us going until it was time to go home. In 2018, a group of Trustees from Himalayan Trust UK visited several different schools in the Taplejung District of Nepal. They were all asked about the same thing: whether they could help the students have access to lunch in the middle of the day.

Often, children will eat breakfast in the morning, after doing their chores and before setting off to walk up to two hours to get to school for their morning lessons. While the pupils were being provided with water during the day, thanks to previous fundraising work carried out by Himalayan Trust UK, they were not being given anything to eat until they arrived back home again around 6pm or later. Teachers were noticing a real dip in concentration during afternoon lessons as a result. Some children would even leave early in order to get back home sooner and have something to eat.

Although we are a small charity, the health and wellbeing of the region’s schoolchildren, as well as their access to regular, nutritious food, has long been a priority for us. Our budget could not quite stretch to providing daily lunches for more than 1,700 children, nor could we build enough kitchens to help local people prepare meals on site. However, our friends at REED Nepal made an excellent suggestion that we were able to take forward.

They proposed that we provide each child going to school with their own insulated lunchbox. Their parent or carer could then place an extra portion from the family’s morning meal inside for the child to eat at lunchtime. This would give them the nutritional boost they would need to keep on learning until it was time to go home. A trial project saw 515 children of primary school age across seven schools receive lunchboxes. Parents were invited to a talk, during which the project was explained and their support encouraged.

When the Trustees returned to the same region in 2019, they visited a school at Phoktanglung near the village of Chiruwa just before lunch time. As the lunch bell rang, they watched the children line up to be handed their lunchboxes in a happy ritual, reminiscent of a prizegiving ceremony. Everyone received their box, washed their hands and sat down together on the grass to eat. The children ate rice, vegetables and other offerings from home, and if anyone ever did not bring their lunchbox with them, the others all shared whatever they had between them. Once finished, they all dashed off to play and run off some energy before the afternoon session began.

Nepali children having lunch
Since the initial pilot all 2600 pupils in our schools received a lunch box and they had an immediate impact. Teachers reported increased concentration levels and higher attendance figures as children were able to concentrate on their lessons all day and stopped absconding from school in the afternoons because they no longer felt hungry. Each box cost just £3.50 and made a huge difference to the life of the school in a very short space of time. Parents are also enthusiastically on board and can see the benefits of the scheme for themselves.

The project seemed to be going well despite Covid-19 school closure interruptions. Imagine our disappointment when we visited schools in November 2022 to find most children were not using their lunch boxes but they were lying empty on shelves. What could have gone wrong? Actually, nothing had gone wrong. The Nepalese Government had taken note of our lunch box project, saw the positive impact it had on educational outcomes and chose to adopt their own version of lunch provision across the country.

All schools receive government funding in order to supply each child from Grades 1 – 6 with a hot lunch supplied from a nearby lodge. Schools that are not in close proximity to a lodge give the money to the parents to provide the lunch. The initiative is shortly to be extended to Grades 7 and 8 and possibly beyond, although  it is believed that the top years are more able to look after themselves.

Our desire was to support the children in our thirty five schools, to give them a better chance in life. Now that need no longer exists. Every child in Nepal, below the age of fourteen, receives a meal in the middle of the day thus increasing their learning potential. We don’t think Himalayan Trust UK can take all the credit for this shift in government policy but it is reassuring to know that they take an interest in our work and, perhaps, act accordingly.


As registered charities and foundations, we continue to work with the communities of Nepal.
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