Yangchen C Rinzin 

The education ministry will cater dry ration to more than 10,000 vulnerable children identified by the government across the country from this month.

The ration will consist of fortified rice, fortified cooking oil, chickpeas, and pulses.

The ration that will be distributed through the programme called “Take-Home Ration” will be formally launched today. It is to ensure that the children meet their daily dietary and nutritional requirements and in response to Covid-19, according to the education minister Jai Bir Rai.

This is one of the interventions to address issues related to schools remaining closed since March 6 after the first Covid-19 case was detected.

The education minister said that in other times school meals help students meet their daily nutritional needs and that the school closure has impacted the supply of school meals, especially for the needy students identified.

“We’ll be supplying the ration to last for a month from the stock left with the school feeding programme to each student in the family,” Lyonpo said.

“Health of these children is important where many of these children depend on nutritious food from the school meal.”  

Lyonpo said this would also ensure that food stock that has been kept for school feeding are not spoilt, as the reopening of schools is still uncertain. “Should the closure continue beyond June, we’ll continue to deliver the ration to these children.”

The students identified are mostly from economically backward, displaced students, single parent, those with disabilities, landless farmers, and divorced parents, including students depending on Kidu, among many.

The children would also get toiletries and menstrual hygiene supplies through UNICEF support.

Each student will receive Nu 905 worth of ration: 12kg of rice, 1.5 litres of cooking oil, half a kg of chickpeas, and 2kg of pulses. The National School Feeding Programme spend around Nu 9 million for this project.

During his visit to many villages last month, Lyonpo said that there were families who said it has become expensive to raise their children since the day schools closed.

For instance, those with large families said that rice that would last more than a month is not enough for a month. In a few cases, families are surviving with fewer meals.

“This is because students’ meals were taken care of in the schools, especially for the boarding students,” Lyonpo said. “In doing so we want to make sure these students do not drop out of schools because of health problems due to nutrition deficiency.”

Education ministry’s chief of nutrition division Karma Wangchuk said that based on the number of identified students in the dzongkhags, the nearest schools with feeding programme would act as distribution points where the children can collect their ration.

“To avoid large gathering or rush, we’ll ensure that distribution is well organised and spread over several days,” he said.

“Parents would be given a specific day and time to collect their ration and advised to use a face mask.”

The programme, the Prime Minister first recommended, is a joint project of the ministry, World Food Programme (WFP) and the UNICEF.

“Having recommended by the Lyonchhen during one of the meetings, we have worked for a month to ensure Take-Home Ration takes place,” the chief said. “After the distribution, we also plan to monitor so that students don’t waste it.”

Ministry, supported by WFP, will work with schools and local leaders to inform on the planned distribution of Take-Home Ration and re-packaging of the ration.

Karma Wangchuk said those staff involved in the re-bagging would also be provided personal protective equipment (PPE) including face masks, gloves, hand sanitisers, and soaps.

Head of Office, WFP Bhutan, Svante Helms in a press release stated that the pandemic had raised concerns about students’ health and wellbeing during the closure of schools so, WFP aims to help government reopen schools safely and ensure a most marginalised return to the classroom.

“This may include incentivising returns through school meals.”