CHIANG RAI – Waking up early for school is difficult for most kids but not this 13-year-old Akha girl. Mallika Sae-lee is a 6th-grade student at Ban Ruam Jai School in Mae Chan district of Chiang Rai.
She arrives early every day to take care of a vegetable patch before her school’s morning recitation of the national anthem.
Mallika is among dozens of pupils who grow a bounty of organic vegetables using local resources. Every morning she waters the garden, puts compost onto the soil and checks if the vegetables are ready.
She will then pick them for the school kitchen to be cooked under a free school meals project.
“Long beans are ready when their pods become green and feel full while morning glory grows easily from seeds and can be harvested every 20-25 days,” Mallika says proudly. Saying she and her classmates help grow a variety of organic vegetables such as long beans, morning glory, eggplants, cabbages, tomatoes and basil.
“I feel so happy when I eat food from the veggies I grew. There are no pesticides. I have healthy lunches every day,” she says. “I like eating green curry with chicken and eggplant and spicy Thai basil chicken because they are tasty and good for me.”
The school also teaches students how to cook the things they grow
Mallika says proudly she now also grows organic vegetables at home, and encourages her parents to eat homegrown produce. She believes most of the fruit and vegetables in the market are contaminated by pesticides or other harmful chemicals.
As well as growing vegetables, Jakkapong Palamae, an experienced school gardening teacher, says the school is teaching students in the 7th-9th grade, or Matthayomsuksa 1-3, to raise chickens for eggs and make compost for the vegetable garden.
The school also teaches students how to cook the things they grow. “Our garden is a source of pride for the children and community,” Mr Jakkapong stressed.
The school’s three farming programs are part of the “Dek Doi Kin Dee” project to promote healthy eating habits among students. Those living in upstream communities in Chiang Rai’s Mae Chan, Mae Fa Luang, Mae Suai and Wiang Kaen districts.
The four-year project, initiated by the Hill Area and Community Development Foundation (HACDF), a non-profit organization set up to help develop the living quality of hill tribe people. It was funded by the Thai Health Promotion Foundation (ThaiHealth) and divided into four year-long phases.
Learning from Each Other and Sharing Experiences
Thirty-three schools, networks of farmers, and public health volunteers in the four districts in Chiang Rai gathered late last month at the foundation on Doi Mae Salong mountains in Mae Fa Luang district. To learn from each other and share their experience in taking part.
The general consensus was that the project has been successful and had stimulated interest among children and their communities in the importance of nutritious food, good health and daily exercise. They were also keen to call on ThaiHealth to continue supporting the project or begin new similar ones.
Charoen Apichai, Ban Ruam Jai School headmaster, said the project has benefited his students and helped to educate them about health risks and dangers with processed and packaged foods that have little nutritional benefit. Most students took the message on board and made an effort to change their eating habits, according to Mr Charoen.
As part of its commitment to the project, the school banned vendors from selling processed and packaged foods, as well as soft drinks with high sugar content, on its grounds. The school also sought cooperation from parents to make sure students were maintaining healthy eating habits at home, the school principal added.
Mr Charoen says the vegetable garden has been a great success and is helping to equip students with the skills to grow healthy produce organically and in an environmentally, pesticide-free, way. He also notes that the kids have learned that fresh organic fare tastes far nicer than processed alternatives.
Chiang Rai School Raise awareness about eating for good health
To give the scheme an even broader educational context, a group of 12 students with a talent for public speaking for selected to help host a 15 -minute radio show which is played on speakers around the school before lunch every day. Two students a day take turns reading useful information about health and diet..
Monthita Sharemore, 12, one of the radio broadcasters, told the Bangkok Post live on air that the fundamental aim of the program is to encourage the students to skip eating processed snacks and other unhealthy foods.
“I tell them to eat local food with organic fresh vegetables and do daily exercise,” said Monthita.
Wuthipong Sawanchote, President of the Lahu Association of Thailand, praised the HACDF for carrying out the project in an effort to raise awareness about eating for good health for the hill tribe people.
“Our society has massive health problems in the form of obesity, lack of exercise and diabetes. So our kids must learn how to change their eating habits and exercise behaviour,” Mr Wuthipong says.
However, he says that it’s not just the schools’ duty to promote good habits, and more parents and community leaders should also involve themselves with the work of the foundation and volunteer to take part in school activities related to healthy living.
At the recent gathering of project volunteers, Juthamas Rajchaprasit, the Dek Doi Kin Dee director, thanked everyone for the success they have brought to the project. She said that it has not only provided schoolchildren with a better awareness of diet and nutrition.
It has also helped to forge strong bonds between the next generation of young leaders, senior citizens and community residents. She concluded by stating that it was her wish that even in the absence of an official project, they would continue to work together to make life better for everyone.
Source: The Bangkok Post