Student's Health is a School Priority
Sitting with his colleagues at the school, Mr. Touch Sinath, a 51-year-old school principal and mathematics teacher, happily expressed his thoughts about the changes he has made in the school and his own life since Save the Children began implementing the Adolescent Nutrition project in Angkor High School in Kampong Cham Province, Cambodia.
“I am really happy to see the student absence rate has decreased because the students have slightly changed their diets,” Mr. Sinath said with a big smile. “I also stopped drinking canned beverages and started eating breakfast regularly.”
Mr. Sinath has been working as the Angkor High School principal since 2009. He recalled that one of the biggest challenges at his school was the health issues of students. They always ate unhealthy food, consumed canned beverages and packaged snacks instead of breakfast. These snacks and beverages are readily available from vendors selling to the students around the school campus. Mr. Sinath said he thinks that is why they got sick very often, and it disturbed their studies when the absent rates were high.
“The vendors freely sell everything in the school canteen, there was no restriction on unhealthy foods or canned beverages, because I did not really know the bad impact of those useless foods,” Mr.Sinath remarked, “I saw students used to consume canned beverages without knowing the side effects from it.”
With funding support from GSK, Save the Children works with secondary schools in Boeng Kok District to raise students’ awareness regarding dietary requirements and the health benefits of consuming various nutritious foods. The project recruited Mr. Sinath as a Core Trainer, and he has been to several training workshops, where he says he has learned many useful lessons related to nutrition. The workshops taught participants about the importance of eating breakfast and eating nutritious foods.
After receiving the training, Mr. Sinath started noticing things changing in himself and the school. He started consuming raw sugarcane juice instead of canned beverages like energy drinks and soda. “We strictly follow up with the food vendors at the school [to make sure] they are not selling unhealthy foods, packaged snacks, and canned beverages,” Sinath continued. “During recess breaks, the School Adolescent for Nutrition always monitors the things in the canteen.”
A few months later, the food vendors at the school started to sell healthier and unprocessed options like fruit salads, sugarcane juice, and traditional snacks like steamed sticky rice with mung beans. The students can now choose to eat various healthy foods, and they are feeling healthier and more energetic at school. Many of the students have changed from only eating two meals per day to eating three, especially breakfast, which helps them stay focused and learn better in class. Now the students come to class regularly, and there is less absenteeism.
Sinath says he is happy beyond words about these changes. “My students are now healthier and they are very active in sharing the messages about the importance of having breakfast and eating a variety of foods including calcium-rich and protein-rich foods, fruits, vegetables, starches and cereals,” he said.
“Even the project phased out, as the school principal, I will still follow the lessons from the project in the class or during the morning announcement. I will continue to share this lesson and activities to other schools that do not have this program to ensure the adolescent gain knowledge about nutrition,” said Mr. Sinath.