It's nearly lunchtime in Kyrgyzstan, and the kindergarteners in Nasiba Tashirova's classroom are getting a bit restless. A gaggle of bouncy boys and girls are dancing and exchanging handclaps while their teacher helps a group of classmates wash up for lunch.
The room settles down once Tashirova returns and steaming bowls of macaroni soup are placed on each desk. For the next 10 minutes, the clinks and clanks of spoons on bowls fill the room. A main course of potatoes and vegetables awaits.
Mercy Corps is ensuring 50,000 kindergarteners and boarding-school students throughout southern Kyrgyzstan receive healthy meals like this one. The agency supplements school pantries with oil, wheat flour and rice — staples that are critical for schools that receive very little governmental or community support for vital school-feeding programs.
The Fairy Tale School, a 420-student kindergarten in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, is a good example. A poster near the kitchen shows that they received 23 bags of rice, 44 bags of flour and 65 boxes of cooking oil from Mercy Corps this year — more than $5,000 worth of food.
"These provisions allows us to spend money on other ingredients, so we can provide a nutritious diet to the children," explains one of the school chefs.
Children like Inagor are the ultimate beneficiaries. She started the day by eating bread with tea at home — a typical home breakfast, school officials say. But a bowl of hot rice porridge awaited her at school. And now, after slurping down her macaroni soup, she's cleaned her plate of potatoes and vegetables.
"I like the food here," Inagor says shyly, "even better than at home." She'll get one final meal, a snack, in mid-afternoon before heading home around 6 p.m. Mixed with the earlier meals, it's clearly a recipe for healthy kids.