Safe Educational Opportunities Project
Khammouane province in central Laos had one of the lowest primary school completion rates in the country in 2005. Increasing enrollment, attendance, and community participation in primary education has meant permanent changes in the lives of school children there. The Safe Educational Opportunities Project (SEOP) began in 2007 by providing 109 primary schools in three districts with 660 metric tons of food donated by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This food was served as daily snacks for children at school and also given as monthly rations to children who attend at least 80 percent of their classes. Other education support activities in 50 focus schools included teacher training, construction and renovation of classrooms and school furniture, school gardens, school water and sanitation facilities, health promotion, establishment and training of village education development committees, and the provision of school supplies.
After only one year, teachers reported that enrollment and attendance had improved dramatically, and that children were more attentive during lessons. As a result, USDA awarded additional funding and food commodities to enable another two phases of the project through 2012. This included an expansion of the program to 41 more schools in 2010. Enrollment over four years has increased dramatically from 11,700 in 109 schools in October 2007 to 18,200 in 150 schools in October 2011. Families who used to only be able to send one of their children to school are now sending all three at the same time since they are able to get food at school each day and bring home monthly food rations.
This project is helping communities focus on supporting and recognizing education’s important role. Community members are actively involved, donating their time to cook the daily snacks and providing labor and materials for construction activities.
IRD operated SEOP in partnership with the Humpty Dumpty Institute (HDI) through a Food for Education Grant from USDA. Other partners have included the Mines Advisory Group (MAP), UXO Lao, Deseret International Charities, and Lutheran World Relief. The project is scheduled to run through June 2012.