China makes efforts to provide free meals for impoverished students

By Li Qiao Source:Global Times Published: 2019/9/19 17:38:40

Students at Wumu elementary school, Maguan county, Southwest's China Yunnan Province, queue up for lunch. Photo: Courtesy of Wumu elementary school

○ In the 70 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China, the living standards of Chinese people have improved significantly

○ The government and society are paying more attention to children's health by making efforts to provide free nutritious meals

○ A transparent supervision system is the key to improving the national and social plan for providing free meals for children

Support from the government and society in China ensures that disadvantaged children in rural areas enjoy nutrient-rich and hygienic meals every day for free. Many netizens also follow what children eat every day on social networking site Sina Weibo.

Dai Xing, director of the office of nutrition under the bureau of education in Maguan county, Southwest China's Yunnan Province, told the Global Times that in the early days of the founding of the People's Republic of China, Chinese people generally had difficulty getting enough food and clothing. 

"The government and society not only give food to children in poor areas, but they also make efforts to provide nutrition-rich meals, paying special attention to children's health," said Dai Xing, director of the office of nutrition under the bureau of education in Maguan county, Southwest China's Yunnan Province,

In the 70 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, our motherland has strengthened itself in numerous aspects and the living standards of Chinese people have improved significantly, Dai said, adding that the countryside is now accessible by road, which makes it easier to transport fresh vegetables into the mountainous areas where these children live.

Since the fall term of 2011, the Ministry of Education (MOE) has implemented a plan for improving the nutrition of rural students receiving compulsory education, and provided them with a subsidy of three yuan ($0.42) per person per day, which rose to four yuan in November 2014, according to a report released by MOE in 2017.

The nutrition improvement program for rural students receiving compulsory education covers all poverty-stricken counties, benefiting 37 million rural students, the Xinhua News Agency reported on December 28, 2017.

On April 2, 2011, 500 journalists, dozens of domestic mainstream media outlets and the China Social Welfare Foundation, launched Free Lunches for Children (FLC), with an initial donation of three yuan per day (since the 2015 fall semester, this has increased to four yuan per meal due to rising prices), to help children avoid hunger by allowing them to enjoy free hot lunches.

Su Zhefang, the secretary general of FLC, told the Global Times that it has been cooperating with the national program in many schools, mainly those located in Central China's Hubei Province and Southwest China's Yunnan and Sichuan provinces.

In particular, the national program supports meals for students during their years of compulsory education, and FLC supports meals for preschool children and staff, chef salaries, kitchen hardware facilities, water, electricity, fuel and other associated operating expenses according to the schools' needs, Su explained.

By August 2019, a total of 1,223 schools had joined FLC, benefiting more than 310,000 students and teachers with more than 500 million yuan raised in total, Su said.

Clean and nutritious meals

There are 115 children in Wumu elementary school, including 80 boarding pupils, who enjoy this national support, and 35 kindergarten children who are supported by FLC.

Maguan county is one of the 27 state-level poverty-stricken counties in Yunnan, located on the border between China and Vietnam, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

Dai told the Global Times that many of the students are left-behind children whose parents are working far away, leaving the children in the care of their grandparents. 

Most of these elderly grandparents don't pay particular attention to the nutritional variety of the meals they prepare, and some children only have the same dish for a whole week.

Children at Wumu elementary school, Maguan county, Southwest's China Yunnan Province, line up to wash their hands. Photo: Courtesy of Wumu elementary school

Liu Yekun, a third-grade boy, told the Global Times that he prefers the food at school because he can have fresh meat and vegetables for every meal, while his family always cooks with preserved meat. His favorite food is pork and eggs.

There are two vegetable dishes, one meat dish and one serving of soup for every meal, Peng Zeshang, the principal of Wumu, explained, adding that ensuring food safety and menu preparation are the most difficult parts of his work routine.

Food materials are ordered one week in advance and distributed by the catering company twice a week, he said.

Every time the ingredients arrive, the teachers will check their appearance and smell to ensure that the food has not spoiled while in transit, and carefully go over the inspection report to ensure the quality of the ingredients, Peng said.

All 11 teachers in Wumu elementary school meet to prepare the menu once a week before ordering ingredients, even though they all have their own subjects to teach.

Peng, the principal of Wumu, is 38 and had almost never cooked. He started to read recipe books and watch cooking programs to find out how to match different vegetables and provide diverse and nutrition-rich dishes to students.

Transparency is key

"On September 18, 80 pupils supported by the program and 48 children subsidized by FLC had a free lunch of stir-fried pork, stir-fried lotus root, fried potato and pumpkin soup. Main consumption: rice 14.5 kilograms, lotus root 8 kilograms, potato 6.5 kilograms and pumpkin 7 kilograms. The total expense was 444.2 yuan, of which 18 yuan was spent on oil and salt."

Wang Zhiqiang, a math teacher in Wumu who is also in charge of publishing details of meals on Sina Weibo, put this post on Weibo and included photos of the dishes and children having their meals on the official account of Wumu elementary school to let donors know how their donations were being spent.

Su told the Global Times that openness and transparency are the guiding principles of FLC. FLC also provides training on Weibo publicity for school teachers.

Wang said that dishes are published on Weibo not only for supervision but also to draw the attention of netizens, and encourage them to take part in caring for children.

Providing free meals for disadvantaged students in rural areas is conducive to the healthy mental and physical growth of children. Even when some villages escape poverty, it is important to continue providing such welfare for children. 

Li Xuewen, a 22-year-old woman who works in Beijing and donates 88 yuan monthly to FLC, told the Global Times that she is delighted to see children having such delicious food. Her donation can provide 22 meals for a student, and she believes this is money well spent.

Li is happy to see students having nutritious meals and hopes that students living in poverty can grow up healthy and have the same opportunity to explore the world in the future.

Yang Ya'nan, an 8-year-old girl at Wumu, told the Global Times that she is grateful to the government and the many kind people across the country who provide free meals to her and her classmates. 

"I hope these uncles and aunts, who care about whether I have nutritious food at every meal, will also order less take-away food and eat more vegetables themselves," Yang said.

Newspaper headline: Feeding the next generation

Posted in: IN-DEPTH

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