Peng Xiang (right), deputy secretary-general of Amway Charity Foundation, has lunch in the newly built kitchen under the Spring Seedling Kitchen Project with students of Langhe Primary School in Shiyan, Hubei province. Huang Ying / China Daily
Rural schools get new dining rooms and good kitchens.
"When we came back to school at the beginning of this semester, all of us were very happy to see this change - a newly built dining hall with a well-equipped kitchen," said Zhou Jing, a fifth-grade student at Langhe Primary School in Shiyan, in Central China's Hubei province.
At noon every school day, three lines of youngsters stand neatly before the kitchen window waiting for their lunch. After swiping a green meal card on a little machine in front of the window, each child can then collect his or her meal. The new dining hall holds 980 students, of whom 55 percent are children of migrant workers. A total of 317 students have meals at school.
The kitchen at Langhe was the first built this year under the Spring Seedling Kitchen Project, a charitable program focused on improving the nutrition of students at boarding schools in impoverished rural areas. It was the 301st built since the project was launched last year.
Co-sponsored by Amway Charity Foundation and China National Committee for the Wellbeing of the Youth, the project aims to build 1,000 kitchens across more than 10 provinces and autonomous regions in Central and West China within three years, with a total investment of 50 million yuan ($7.82 million).
In 2011, 300 kitchens were constructed across 18 counties in six provinces, including Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region and the provinces of Shaanxi, Heibei and Hubei. In addition to the facilities, more than 400 canteen officers in charge of the management of the kitchens, have been trained. Some 150,000 children have benefited.
According to a report on students' nutrition released by China Development Research Foundation last year, 12 percent of children in poor areas in central and western regions were found to be suffering from physical retardation. As many as 72 percent of them were hungry during classes.
"In the new canteen we get much more food than before, when we were usually underfed. If we still feel hungry after a bowl of rice, we can ask for more rice and dishes at no extra cost," Zhou said.
Chen Xiangzhou, a fifth-grade boy at Langhe Primary School, said: "The dining environment has improved and the food tastes better than before."
He said that before the new kitchen and dining hall were built, they used to have meals outdoors, standing or squatting, because the school could not afford dining tables and chairs.
"Almost all the children leave nothing in their bowls and some of them ask for a second helping, especially boys," said Xu Jiao, who works in the kitchen.
In the past, students had to pay 20 yuan a week for a meal at school. Now all they need is a card given free to all students, according to Chen.
As well as the two organizations that launched the program, local governments have also offered support. The construction of Langhe's kitchen and dining hall and the water and electricity supply were funded by the local government and local education authority, said Liu Xiaolian, executive deputy director of China National Committee for the Wellbeing of the Youth.
"The equipment in the kitchen, such as the sterilizing facility, stainless steel kitchenware, refrigerator and stove, were sponsored by Amway Charity Foundation," Liu said.
The nutritional condition of children in poverty-stricken rural areas was brought to wide public attention when Deng Fei and friends in the media initiated the Free Lunch for Children campaign in 2011. The campaign drove the government to take action.
In October 2011, the central government decided to spend 16 billion yuan a year to improve nutrition for primary and middle school students in rural areas. It means every student gets a subsidy of three yuan for lunch on school days. It's estimated the move is benefiting about 26 million students in nearly 680 counties.
This year, the Spring Seedling Kitchen Project plans to add 400 nutrition kitchens in the provinces of Hubei and Henan as well as Ningxia Hui autonomous region with a total investment of 20 million yuan. Another 200,000 children are expected to get better meals at school.
"I hope that our program can work together with the government's measures for improving rural students' nutrition," said Gan Chee Eng, executive vice-chairman of Amway Charity Foundation and president of Amway China.