Working behind the scenes to feed 250 children every day !
Elodie’s canteen was set up in 2014 to avoid sending the children home at lunchtime as well as to offer them a nutritious meal. Each day, the canteen feeds the 250 pupils who come to the primary school and, since 2018, is supplied mainly with organic vegetables by the farmers who participate in the Green Project. The canteen is financed to a great extent by the association “Le Rêve d’Elo” in France.
Interview with Nyohi, the manager of the canteen
Nyohi kindly offered to meet me at 8 o’clock in the morning at the primary school between two batches of rice, whilst she was waiting for the delivery of the vegetables. Nyohi is about 50 years old and you can see in her eyes and her attitude that she has got a certain amount of experience – feeding 250 pupils is not a particularly daunting task for her. She explained that, “Before, I used to cater for big events, such as weddings, funerals, religious festivals…I had to prepare meals sometimes for over 1000 guests with several different main dishes.”. Nyohi learnt to cook on the job, starting as an assistant to more experienced women. She then had the opportunity to join Bayon in 2014.
She reminded me that, at the beginning, the orders were not placed as they are today. She used to deal with suppliers who would deliver whole pigs, that she would then have to cut up herself, or kilos of live fish, that would need cleaning and gutting. Over the years, the organisation and the quantities required have changed and so, together with her team, she has been able to find suppliers who take care of a lot of the initial preparation themselves before delivery.
Feeding 250 children every morning and every lunchtime.
Work starts at about 5 am with the preparation and cooking of the typical Khmer “bobor”, a sort of rice soup which is accompanied by fried fish or hard boiled eggs. Even if the day starts early, the team is quickly rewarded when they see the children sometimes serve themselves third or even fourth helpings. This breakfast is essential for these children, who very often leave home on an empty stomach.
Prahok, the French cheese of Cambodia.
In answer to my question “What do the children like eating the best?”, I get the reply “Prahok, of course!” This traditional and iconic Cambodian dish is a type of pâté made from fermented fish. The technique for making it allows the families to keep fish for several months, if not several years. It is sometimes called French cheese and is eaten with raw vegetables and rice. Very salty, it is, like durian fruit or a good camembert, certainly an acquired taste, but it would seem that the children absolutely love it, as Nyohi knows only too well. Prahok figures on the menu at least twice a month!
The much-needed canteen
Served with meat or fish, 5,700 kg of rice and almost 6,000 kg of organic vegetables, coming from the farmers of the Green Project, are distributed every year via Elodie’s Canteen. These meals ensure that the pupils of the Bayon School get at least two square meals a day, allowing them to concentrate better in class. At home, the parents are not always around and the saucepans are sometimes empty… Bayon School took the decision to feed their pupils in order to maximise their chances of succes.