Grandma Keshari helps to fix Sharmila’s hair before she goes to school. © WFP/Samantha Reinders

“My name is Sharmila; I am 13 years old and in fourth grade at a school in Bajhang district in Western Nepal.  I live with my grandmother, Keshari, and my three sisters. Since my parents left us to look for work in India, my grandmother is the one taking care of us. It is only during festivals that I get a chance to see my parents.


Life is difficult, and my grandmother has to often rely on donations from neighbours to provide for us as the money that my parents send through is not always enough. That is why going to school is very important for my two sisters and I because we get the opportunity to learn and eat healthy food on each school day.


The food is very important because sometimes we go to school hungry, enduring long walks to and from school. The Khichadi (a mix of vegetables and rice) and rice served with lentils and potato curry are my favourite meals because they are delicious and nutritious. The food gives me energy to participate in class and to play with my friends after school.


My favourite subject is Nepali, and although I am still struggling with reading Nepali stories, I can now read the letters and numbers. When I grow up, I would like to be a doctor and look after my grandmother, my parents, and other people in my community. I love my grandmother most because she is the one taking good care of us despite her old age.”


Sharmilla’s family is part of the Badi community of the Dalit caste who live in the Western part of Nepal. Many people in this community are poor because of many years of being denied full access to essential services such as education. Their plight gained attention when the 2007 “Badi Andolan” movement shed light on their poor living conditions.


Sharmila concentrates on her schoolwork with her classmates. Their classes have moved outdoors following a recent earthquake that damaged the school buildings. © WFP/Samantha Reinders

Keshari, Sharmila’s 65-year-old grandmother blames many years of economic hardships for Badis’ lack of education. Seeing her granddaughters going to school makes her happy. It’s an opportunity she was sadly denied, and as she looks back, reminiscing, she wonders how her life would have been different, if only she had gone to school. “Education and school meals during my time could have helped me.  It could have empowered many girls at the time,” she says with a distant look on her face before murmuring inaudibly.


Although her family has no assets, she draws some hope from the opportunity her granddaughters now have – to become educated and able to realise their dreams.

“Even though we live on very little money, with no land, and no belongings, my lovely grandchildren are attending school everyday. I’m grateful because they have a fighting chance to have a much better future. The school meals are helping. They are making them healthy, and they never miss school.”

About the School Meals Programme in Bajhang


Provision of school meals started in 2013, reaching over 50,000 students in 462 schools. The meals address immediate nutritional needs and strive to break the cycle of poverty by promoting education, thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. In September 2023, USDA provided a new cycle of support to the tune of $33 million to enable a five-year transition of the World Food Programme support into the government’s midday meals initiative. The goal is to facilitate national government ownership of the school meals programme, with a focus on a strong home-grown component.