|William E. Todd|
I would like to thank everyone for the positive interaction we continue to have through this column. In particular, I appreciate your comments and questions and how they allow us to discuss significant issues related to Cambodia’s development.
When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry came to Asia in October to attend the Asia Pacific Economic CooperationForum, he strongly reiterated the U.S. commitment to the rebalance toward the region. The U.S. government recognizes the importance of the Asia-Pacific region and actively seeks to deepen engagement with its people. The U.S.-Cambodia relationship is an integral part of this effort. Today, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Ambassador Scot Marciel,arrives in Cambodia to meet with representatives of the Royal Government, the political opposition, civil society, and the business community. His visit is yet another concrete example of the significance that the U.S. government places on its ties withCambodia.
During his stay, I want to highlight toAmbassador Marciel the wide range of work that the U.S. Embassyis doing to strengthen democracy, promote economic development, and improve the welfare of the Cambodian people, so I was intrigued by one reader’s question, who asked, “Can you show how U.S. programs help ordinary Cambodians?”
One terrific illustrationof the positive and tangible results of U.S. engagement in Cambodia is a new $20 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’sMcGovern-Dole School Feeding Program, which promoteseducation, child development, and food security. Through this program, the United States is working with the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide school meals for 150,000 children as well as other nutritional support to families in Battambang, Siem Reap, and Kampong Thom provinces over the next three years. The key objectives of the program are to reduce hunger and improve literacy and primary education, especially for girls.
This schoolfeeding program addresses the urgent need to reduce child malnutrition in Cambodia, which is currently at an alarmingly high rate of 40 percent. It is vital that we work to combat hunger and its damaging effect on brain development in young children. I recently saw side-by-side comparisons of brain scans of well-nourished and under-nourished three-year-old children, and the differences were startling, with the brain of the malnourished child being significantly smaller. Medical research also shows that children who are malnourished when they are young are more vulnerable to illness, even when they get older. So malnourishment is not only detrimental to children’s health, it also robs a country of its future growth because of its long-term effects. As a large segment of the population in Cambodia is under the age of 18, malnutrition in children is both a humanitarian concern and a daunting development challenge.
The benefits of the school feeding program, however, go well beyond health. Providing school mealsalso helps boost school enrollment and academic performance by giving parents an incentive to keep their children in school and by providing the nutrition that children need to learn.As an additional incentive to keep children in school, the poorest students will be provided additional food to take home, as long as they maintain a school attendance rate of at least 80 percent.
It is clear that combating malnutrition has significant benefits for children beyond the improvement of their welfare during their school years. Similarly, making sure Cambodian children grow up healthy and better educated will also contribute to Cambodia’s development for years to come. In fact, experts estimate that for every dollar invested in school feeding activities, there is a return of at least three dollars in results due to better health and productivity when the children become adults. Therefore, school feeding programs improve not only the health and living conditions of the participating children, but of their families and communities as well.
The new U.S. $20 million donation represents my government’scontinued commitmentto Cambodia. Since 2003, the United States has donated over $75 million to Cambodia in food aid for schools, maternal health, and agricultural development projects. Extending a hand to help peoplehave a better life has long been a principal objective of U.S. foreign policy. Cambodia refuses to let its past dictate its future and has made a valiant recovery from a tragic past. The United States remains committed to helping Cambodia maintain asteadfast focus toward the future.Like the rest of the Asia-Pacific region, Cambodia brims with potentialfrom its young and energetic population. We need this young talent to ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for the Asia-Pacific. Helping to provide adequate nutrition and expand educational opportunities for Cambodian children is a major step toward that goal.
As always, I look forward to reading the questions and comments you send me, in English or Khmer, at AskAMBToddPP@state.gov. You can also follow my blog at http://blogs.usembassy.gov/todd/.
William E. Todd is United States Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia