When Singaporean undergraduates Xu Jiakun and Lim Xin Tong went on a programme to teach at Shree Janakalyan Lower Secondary School in Nepal last summer, they found that the students were keen to learn but had difficulty concentrating at times.
This was because most of the 180 students went to school with nothing for lunch even though lessons were from 9am to 4pm from Sundays to Fridays. Others had only dried grains or biscuits.
The students' parents are farmers without a formal income, or hotel or shop staff earning US$50 (S$68) to US$100 a month.
"We knew that, lively as they were, many of the students were undernourished. Many had discoloured hair and some even had distended abdomens - common symptoms of protein-energy malnutrition," said Mr Xu, 22, who is studying economics and global health at Duke University in the United States.
He and Ms Lim, 20, who is studying psychology and education at the same varsity, decided to start a campaign to raise funds to provide lunch for the students.
They are now trying to raise US$30,000 to fund the project for one school year with 245 school days. The meals are expected to cost 60 US cents each and total US$26,460. The rest of the funds will be spent on cooking fuel and utensils as well as hiring a local cook at US$43 a month.
The students will get eggs, lentils, peas and chicken - all sourced from the local market and farmers to boost local incomes. The hope is to improve the nutritional levels of the students and draw back many who skip school to work on farms.
The school's principal will manage the funds after Mr Xu and Ms Lim leave following an 11-day stay next month to launch the programme.
As of yesterday, the project had raised more than US$13,000 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo (https://www.indiegogo.com/ projects/project-sapana-a- school-lunch-programme) since it was started on Feb 20.
Mr Xu and Ms Lim also hope to partner cafes and restaurants in Singapore to perhaps have them donate a portion of their profits to the project.
"We are also talking to friends from Singapore universities about possible fund-raising efforts, such as bake sales," Mr Xu said.
And what happens after a year? "We'll be exploring adoption of the programme by the local community and non-profit groups so the project can be sustained beyond a year," he said.
This article was first published on April 11, 2015.
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