The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports and the UN World Food Programme (WFP), with support from the Korea International Cooperation Agency, organised a cooking competition in Kampong Chhnang province to embolden the volunteer chefs who dedicate their time to prepare meals for students, under a breakfast programme.
Following a series of district-level cook-offs from December 21-24, a total of 18 chefs from six districts emerged as contestants in the December 28 competition held at Smeth Primary School in Rolea Ba’ier district.
Ministry deputy director for school health Yung Kunthearith commented that the volunteer chefs sacrifice both physical and mental strength to cook breakfasts that are provided free-of-charge to students of target schools in the province.
These meals ensure good health and brain function for students and encourage them to pursue their education, he said.
For context, the ministry and WFP have been running a kindergarten-to-primary school breakfast programme in Cambodia since 1999, aimed at promoting education and food security for children from the country’s most vulnerable families, and ensuring at least a primary level of schooling.
Under the programme, there are currently more than 3,000 volunteer chefs cooking for 1,113 target schools, with over 300,000 eligible students benefiting in 10 provinces.
Ul Socheat, programme policy officer at the WFP, described the competition as a show of encouragement and gratitude to the chefs for their contributions, despite having received at most a small stipend.
“The chefs are giving it their all, getting up early in the morning to cook, so we organised this event to cheer them on, and they’ve been delighted to meet the other chefs – they’ve learned from each other and exchanged cooking experiences,” she said, emphasising that the programme would not be possible without their help.
“We want this competition to raise public awareness of the school catering programme … [which] provides students with hot breakfasts,” Socheat added.
The overjoyed first prize winner, Oum Sivorn, 55, hailed the competition as a great source of encouragement for the chefs.
Currently employed at Smeth – where the event was held – Sivorn shared that she has worked as a school chef for almost eight years.
“I am old, and there’s not much to do at home, so I came here to give students a nutritious breakfast – I’m elated, many of my nieces and nephews study here,” she said.
As the champion, Sivorn has won a prize of 600,000 riel ($150), with her school set to receive an additional 400,000 riel for cooking and kitchen supplies. The second and third place finishers are set to receive 480,000 and 400,000 riel, respectively.