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Our food & wellness programs provide the most basic supports that disadvantaged families struggle to provide for their children. Many rural children are malnourished and do not have enough food at home, thus spending a great deal of their time foraging for food on their own or working instead of receiving an education. For families living with food insecurity, our food program, with the invaluable support from donor Eyes-Open, makes the difference between sending their children to class, or out to work to help put food on the table – a decision that no parent should have to make. 

From daily school meals to food banks, this initiative is a cornerstone of our work and represents a significant chunk of our operations, ensuring that nutrition is going where it’s needed the most!

Daily Meals

This is where our food program first began: a daily breakfast or lunch, available to the +700 students at our four rural school locations. 

Two of the rural schools we support currently receive monthly food rations consisting mainly of rice, oil, salt, and then a very small amount of meat and vegetables from World Food Program. These allocations are a defense against starvation rather than complete nutrition – meaning that they do not provide enough protein and nutrients to keep students well or establish a strong and healthy base for their growing bodies. To combat this issue, and because often this is students’ only complete meal of the day, we greatly supplement these rations with extra meat, fish, and veggies. World Food Program does not provide food to anyone except government schools and hospitals, so at PLF’s own two learning centers where we serve food, PLF provides these meals from scratch.

This commitment to providing complete daily nutrition translates immediately into improved wellness, fewer trips to the hospital, and skyrocketing school attendance. Simply put, full tummies mean healthier and happier students, and parents are no longer faced with that impossible, gut-wrenching decision.

Koh Ker parent

“I have 4 children, and all of them have been in PLF’s programs. My oldest is studying at university in Phnom Penh on a PLF scholarship. My two youngest are still in school, one goes to high school in Srayang helped by PLF and the youngest is at Koh Ker primary.

I wanted them to go to school but could not support them. I only made small money from collecting cassava and bamboo. So I had to use my money to buy food, I could not afford uniforms and supplies as well. I was really happy to get help from PLF. They provide all the things children need and especially they give them breakfast too. It makes it possible for us to send our children to study. Without PLF, it is too hard.

Before I had to think about how to support them and I always worried that I couldn’t – it was a real struggle. Now I know that my children can go to school, which means that the money I earn can buy food for home. And now, my whole way of thinking is different – instead of worrying about money, now my mind is more open and I can think about my children’s future. It changed my mind about my children’s life. I realise that with education, they have better futures and lives, and that makes me feel happy and no more stress.”

Food Banks

While our daily meals offer support across the entire population of our rural schools, our food banks have been developed with a laser focus on those students living in the direst food insecurity amid the most fragile family situations. The following initiatives are seeing great success in keeping students in class and on track for meaningful opportunities beyond school. Altogether, our food banks reach more than 180 student recipients every year, while also benefiting close to 400 extra family members. 

Knar food bank

Our first food bank was established in 2017, when we started noticing some of the most fragile members of the community were going across the border to work in Thailand illegally. This would involve the parents being away for months on end and usually leaving their children in the care of an elderly grandma: the children could not take care of her, and she could not take care of them. This is the perfect storm in which children can be trafficked, sold off to dodgy orphanages, or, at the very least, be removed from school and put to labor. In an effort to prevent those things from happening and ease the suffering of these families, we put in a Food Bank in the village to replace the “income” that a working 10-year-old might bring into the family – putting forth food in exchange for school attendance. The program continues to bring good results and keeps scores of children in school. 

 Urban food bank

In 2014, we also extended this food relief program to the city as part of our urban wellness program. Siem Reap’s urban poor have usually migrated from the countryside in search for work and suffer additional challenges as a result, uprooted from their extended support networks and with no land to plant their own vegetables. Often, children are sent away from their family home to stay with a distant relative so that they have better chances of finishing school, which creates an extra burden on the host family. Offering food bank assistance to PLF Scholarship students means they don’t have to sacrifice study for labor and can fully concentrate on their education. Click the video to meet recipient Sreynoch >

Chreav food bank

Our newest food bank was born out of a humanitarian response to the Covid lockdowns in 2021 – which risked some of the most marginalised families on the outskirts of Siem Reap being plummeted into starvation. The same socio-economic challenges are at play here as in Knar, with children often left in the care of elderly relatives who are doing their best to hold the family together, making their situations desperately precarious. 

This initiative supports more than 120 families who, in addition to monthly food drops also receive vegetables seeds so that they can sustainably produce their own healthy and nutritious food. Since schools re-opened after the pandemic, this initiative has been fully aligned with PLF’s mission, supporting these children to go to school in exchange for ongoing food relief for their families. 

Click the video to meet one Chreav family >

University food bank

The majority of PLF students heading to university must relocate from home in order to do so – living alone and away from their families for the first time. We give these students $70 per month as a living stipend, with an agreement from their family that they will contribute an extra $30 in cash or rice, which ensures the family are committed to their child completing university and so that the student can make ends meet. Most families can usually do that as their child is no longer an overhead at home. Then, in Years 3 and 4 of their degree, students are usually qualified enough in the field they are studying to find part time work related to their subject, and their lives suddenly become more manageable – for them, for us and for their families. But in the interim of those first two years, this stipend is a crucial stop gap. 

In the past, there have been students coming from families who could in no way give this support, and we sometimes had to deny our poorest students scholarships, which goes against the grain of our mission. Since a donor came to the rescue with an annual fund that enabled the creation of the University Food Bank, we have been able to support these students for sporadic periods to cover the shortfalls their parents cannot make up. This in turn means that we can focus on students’ academic ability and level of grit and determination to study, rather than the economic restrictions that had previously created obstructions to them receiving scholarships. 

Families can’t send their children to school if their most pressing need every day is to find food. And those children can’t go on to take advantage of opportunities for advancement that will lift themselves and their families up and break the cycle of poverty. By offering essential food support at every stage of a student’s journey, we enable them to unlock the door to more secure and stable futures. 

Because Food = School … and School Is The Answer

In addition to the daily breakfasts at our primary schools, we strive to provide monthly lunches to give students living with food insecurity extra nutrition. Before Covid, these lunches were funded by visitors and could take place frequently. With tourism still not back to pre-pandemic levels, will you help us to put regular lunches on the table once again?

Donate to our Boosting Brains campaign

Or consider Becoming a Recurring Supporter

For as little as $10 a month, you could contribute to the ongoing education of our students. $120 goes a long way in Cambodia: that’s 5 village children on the road to education, with access to school and clean drinking water for half a year. Or a million other things, all of which coalesce into the tools needed for life to change for the better!

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