Everyone loves lunchtime and the preschoolers in Thang Village in Vietnam are no exception. Meat, tofu or eggs with vegetables each day — the food is more nutritious than what most of them eat at home. What the children don’t realize is that lunch isn’t just about having good food. It’s about staying healthy and about keeping children in school for the afternoon so they can keep learning. Meanwhile, parents can work longer in the field. (MCC photo/Tong Thu Huong) 


If lunch wasn’t served at school, four-year-old Xuân Vui might have done what his older brother did when he was in preschool. Vui’s brother would come home at lunchtime, but sometimes skip lunch and then get so busy playing or swimming in the creek that he never made it back up the hill to school.

Now that lunch is served at the school, Vui continues to learn his rhymes, practice Vietnamese and work with numbers in the afternoon. His mother, Trần Thị Hương, said her son is happier being in school all day, he behaves better than he used to and he is gaining more weight than his older brother did at the same age.

And, while Vui’s in school, Hương has more time to work in her fields or do jobs for other people. (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky)


So why do the children have lunch now when they didn’t before?
Because the yellow preschool now has a kitchen. In 2013, MCC built the simple kitchen beside the preschool in Thang Village so that teachers can make use of government-subsidized food to make meals for the children. MCC also built kitchens in other villages and sponsored teacher training on nutrition, hygiene and how to monitor a child’s growth. (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky)


Having enough to eat in Thang Village is not a simple thing. For example, 4-year-old Hà Thị Phương Thúy’s  parents work in Hanoi, the largest city within a three-hour drive of Thang. They stay there for months at a time and send money to Thuy and her grandmother,  Đinh Thị Hạnh. Hahn said the family’s rice land, 720 square meters of poor soil, does not provide enough food and income for the family. (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky)


To help improve the availability of food, MCC is supporting agriculture work in Thang Village and five other villages in Tan Son District. Bàn Thị Minh,leader of the Women's Union in Xoan Village, has taken several classes taught by MCC-supported agronomists to learn more productive ways to grow rice and raise animals. Minh encourages other villagers to learn and try the new techniques.

Improving yield is essential because Muong and Dao people who used to rely on food harvested from Xuan Son Forest National Park must now rely on their crops. Much of the forest is now restricted for environmental reasons and the farmers must make the most of the plots of land the government provides for their use. (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky)


Minh also is a big proponent of education. She is one of a few high school graduates living in Xoan Village. She knows her children,  Bàn Thu Nhân, 9, Bàn Mạnh Vĩ, 5, and Bàn Xuân Định, 6, and others in the village can’t rely solely on farming in the future. That’s why she is very supportive of any improvements at the village's school. (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky)


Lunch is a big improvement, but that’s not the only thing that makes children want to go to school. They now have hands-on resources and books that MCC’s education program has provided, including the one teacher Hà Thị Hồng Hà is reading to the children. She says that when the children hear the stories and see the pictures, they learn valuable lessons about friendship and caring for one another. (MCC photo/Vuong Chien)


Through MCC-sponsored trainings, teachers have learned to keep the children active in the classroom. Teachers need to be flexible and to encourage children, said Trần Thị Hầu, who took one of the trainings.

“The teacher is the facilitator only and the child is the centre of the training,” said her co-teacher Phùng Thị Hà, who also attended the training. “We have learned that in the class, we need to base our instruction on the knowledge of the child and then we develop suitable curriculum for the child to learn best.” (MCC photo/Vuong Chien)


Something must be working because Sa Xuân Trường, 5, wakes up early to ask his mother to bring him to preschool in Thang village. His mother, Lý Thị Hường, who is holding Trường’s younger brother, Sa  Xuân Thương, said that Thương gained eight pounds during the first year that the school started serving lunch. “I like meals in the school because they have meat, and I like candy too,” says Trường. (MCC photo/Vuong Chien)


"I have realized that with MCC projects, I have seen the children make progress by attending school. They can play, learn and eat. It makes a good starting point for children to further their education," said Đinh Thị Ước, leader of Thang Village. "I have a dream for these kids that ... they will have jobs as teachers and come back to serve the community." (MCC photo/Matthew Sawatzky)


Perhaps Ha Van Cuong, left, and Phung Thi Chi will be future teachers? Who knows! (MCC Photo/Vuong Chien)


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