An International Partnership Between the Yellow Window Association in Korea and the Mongolian University in Mongolia: From the Initiation to the Expansion of School Foodservice Programs in Mongolia
School foodservice is essential for improving the health status and academic performance of children. Developed nations are equipped with financial resources, established organizations and scholars and researchers to accomplish the mission of the school foodservice program. However, there are still many countries, especially in Africa and Asia, where children do not get the nutrients adequate for their growth and a healthy life, due to the poverty and political instability of these nations. This statement introduces the development of a school foodservice program in Mongolia. The school foodservice project was initiated in 2002 in Mongolia by collaborating with Korea. As the initial project proved successful, a further project is proposed to expand the school foodservice program through the nation. The example of Mongolia can serve as a model for practicing nutrition programs for children in developing countries.
Mongolia is located in middle northern Asia, between Russia and China. It has 240 million people, of which approximately 40% work in agriculture and ranching. Mongolia is experiencing economic difficulty due to the transition of the economic system from communism to capitalism; the GNP in Mongolia is $380. Since the major industries of agriculture, mining and ranching in the nation have a very low productivity rate, Mongolia must import fruits, vegetables and other daily necessities from adjacent Russia and China. Because of the strong presence of the ranch industry, Mongolian citizens have traditionally consumed a lot of meat and milk products, including animal fats and alcohol. The consumption of fruits and vegetables is very low. In addition, the low production of fruits and vegetables due to the cold and dry climate, combined with the high price of importation, has encouraged this tradition. Reflecting its food consumption patterns, the population lacks essential nutrients such as Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Iron and Iodine. Not surprisingly, the population has a high incidence of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and obesity induced by the high consumption of animal fats.
Need For a School Foodservice Program in Mongolia and Forming a Partnership with Korea
In 2003, there were 537,400 students in 686 schools in Mongolia (232,400 in grades one through four, 232,000 in grades five through eight and 73,000 in grades nine through 10). A group of experts in Korea and Mongolia collaborated to identify the problems associated with Mongolian children’s health and to develop a nutrition program to improve children’s nutritional status. The project has been conducted by the Mongolia Center for the Improvement of Nutrition (MIN) at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST) in Mongolia and the Yellow Window Association for Nutrition Improvement in Korea. Below is a description about forming a partnership of the two organizations.
The Yellow Window Association for Nutrition Improvement is a sub-organization of the Yellow Window Association. The Yellow Window Association, a non-profit organization, strives to help unprivileged people in undeveloped countries. The association identified 78 countries (three in South America, 48 in Africa, 26 in Asia and one in Oceania) who are deficient in food and nutrition/safety, and health, by utilizing creditable information from world famous International Organizations (UNICEF, WHO, World Bank). Then, they provide services to improve the living environment of the locals. The Nutrition Improvement Team plays a role in improving the nutritional status of the recipient countries. In 1993, the Yellow Window Association launched a foodservice company called Soo-Yang Foodservice Corporation, which was dispatched to Mongolia. Since 1994, the Nutrition Improvement Team has managed the foodservice operations at the Mongolian University of Science & Technology. Through the process, Mongolia realized the need of nutrition experts, which led to the birth of the Mongolia Center for the Improvement of Nutrition (MIN). The MIN was financially invested by two parties, Mongolian University of Science & Technology and Soo-Yang Foodservice Corporation of the Yellow Window Association. It was the collaboration of the Yellow Window Association and the Mongolian University of Science & Technology, which led to a partnership between Korea and Mongolia.
The mission of the MIN is to improve the health of the nation by conducting a variety of activities, including education, material development, research, promotion and policy-making. The MIN has contributed to academia, to society and to medicine, while being a pioneer in the Mongolian nutrition field. The MIN developed a nutrition major in the college (the first in the nation) and supported course curriculum, educated nutrition experts, initiated research on hospital foodservice (until then no foodservice was provided in Mongolian hospitals), researched Mongolian’s food consumption pattern, operated counseling centers and so on.
One of the focused areas of the MIN is on school foodservice for children. The MIN and the Nutrition Improvement Team of the Yellow Window Association first identified the following list of nutritional problems in Mongolian children: 12.5% of Mongolian children ages five or less are under weight and 24.5% are stunted; children do not consume enough iron, vitamin C and vitamin B12 and 42% of the preschool children are anemic; under-consumption of calcium has impaired bone density and teeth, which leads to osteoporosis when they become adults; not having lunch at school causes students to develop hypoglycemia, which lessens their brain activity and their ability to think; Children from low-income families showed a malnutrition status that is three times higher than others. Those children are slow in growth and their physical capability is low, as they are not supplied with an adequate amount of daily essential nutrients; since 71.4% of the Mongolian soil is deprived of iodine, much of the population is diagnosed with goiter, which deters children’s mental and physical development; the lack of vitamin A negatively affects children’s body weight and eyesight. A food industry equipped with modern techniques should be developed to provide children with foods that have the necessary nutrients.
Planning and Initiation of a School Foodservice in Mongolia
Considering the critical nature of the identified nutrition problems prevalent to Mongolian children, the MIN and the Nutrition Improvement Team concluded that there is a great need for school foodservice for children in Mongolia. They indicated two goals for such a foodservice program:
- To supply nutritious and safe foods to the Mongolian population.
- To solve the children's and adolescents' serious nutritional problems which are caused by malnutrition.
The following nutrition objectives were then established.
- Nutrition Objectives: Students will be provided with meals which are adequate for mental and physical development; nutrition education will be provided to students and parents to educate them on good eating habits. And children in severe malnutrition need doctors' attention and these requests are made through the MIN. A positive development has been the initiative that the Mongolian government is taking in this endeavor; the Mongolian government is promoting the nutrition education through mass-media and MIN also participated in educational programs for television.
- Food Industry Objectives: In order to achieve adequate consumption of minerals, vitamins and proteins, food items abundant in Mongolia will be utilized and new food items will be developed by applying internationally approved industry techniques. Education on new technologies will be provided to school foodservice employees.
- Administration Objectives: An organizational structure of the school foodservice operations will be established and sound management techniques will be fostered. In compliance with the program practiced by the Mongolian government, "Food Supply/Distribution Safety and Nutrition," improved methods will be developed to provide students with safe foods.
Implementation of the Initial Project
University, government and non-profit organizations in Korea and Mongolia partnered, and developed and implemented an initial school foodservice project in Mongolia. The initial school foodservice project was launched at the Erchurlung elementary schools and practiced during the 2002 to 2003 school year. The project provided foods and menus which met students' physiological requirements and preferences in order to enhance their satisfaction with the school foodservice, while supplying seasonal food items. By providing the school foodservice, they wanted to: improve students' class participation; enhance students' mental capacity; educate students about food safety; and provide a sound educational environment. The project was successful on a number of important fronts: The program provided nutritious meals and elevated students' satisfaction by building a new foodservice dining and kitchen facility; the program enhanced the students' physical capabilities while evaluating the school’s foodservice and meals eaten at the school; the program developed a model for a school foodservice dining and kitchen facility; the program provided students with foods which were adequate to their age and body size; the program analyzed the nutritional values of meals eaten at school, which were included in a menu card, enhancing the students' nutritional education; the program examined students' and parents' school lunch satisfaction; A menu card of 80 meals and a CD, bulletin boards and booklets which contained nutritional knowledge were developed and supplied to the Erchurlung school; a booklet on nutrition education for parents was developed and distributed.
Expansion of a School Foodservice Program in Mongolia
As the initial school foodservice project in Mongolia proved very successful, the partnership is proposing to expand the school foodservice project throughout the nation. The purpose of this project is to expand school foodservice programs in Mongolia by fostering experts, promoting the importance of a school foodservice program to the general public and establishing school foodservice programs strategically throughout the national school system. The long-term project goals are to improve the food consumption patterns and eating styles of children and to further improve the Mongolian population’s health status.
Details of the Project
It is expected that it will take longer than 10 years until adequate school foodservice is provided to all Mongolian schools. The first proposed project is for a five-year period and a continuing project will be proposed after the first project is completed. The currently proposed project will start in September 2005 and is scheduled for completion by August 2010. Three elementary schools (two in Ulaanbaatar and one in a rural area) will be participants of the project. Three to five hundred students in grades four through seven from each school will be involved. School lunches will be provided to the schools for three years through this project. As this project is an international collaboration of two countries, the committee for the project is comprised of two parties, one from Mongolia and the other from Korea. The Mongolian party includes a representative of the Mongolian government, a representative of Mongolian University, the Director of Mongolia Center for Improvement of Nutrition, researchers and staff, and Principals of the participating schools in Ulaanbaatar. The Korean party consists of a representative of the Yellow Window Association for Nutrition Improvement, a representative of the Soo-Yang Foodservice Corporation, experienced registered dietitians (RD) and staff. The major role of the committee from the two nations is to review and make a decision on the overall agenda about practicing school foodservice programs in Mongolia. Specifically they will work on the selection of the participating schools, budgeting, hiring personnel and will provide consultation on the policies and regulations for school foodservice programs.
The five-year period project will be implemented through a serious of activities.
- The selection of the participating schools will be conducted in three stages in terms of expanding school foodservice through the nation: first stage participants come from schools in middle-income class in a city; the second stage will be schools in poverty in the city; the last will be in a rural area.
- In March 2005, Mongolian representatives (government official, university scholars and administrators) of the project visited Korea and observed school foodservice operations, Korean Department of Education, Korean Dietetic Association (KDA) and collected information essential for policy, regulations and personnel recruitment.
- In late May 2005, Korean experts in school foodservice (government official for policy making, dietitians in school foodservice and former MIN Director) will visit Mongolia and will deliver a seminar to Mongolian representatives to advertise the value and importance of school foodservice. At this visitation, the selection of schools who will be participants in the project is planned.
- Experienced dietitians from Korea will work for the first exemplary schools until the school foodservice is established. Then the local Mongolian dietitian will replace the Korean dietitians as the Mongolian experts will be trained by the MIN.
- Initial funding for the school foodservice operations in Mongolia for this project will be supplied by the Yellow Window Association. Further funding will be raised by the Mongolian government and the Mongolian University of Science & Technology together with the Yellow Window Association.
This statement introduces a successful example of an initiation of the school foodservice program in Mongolia and then shares the proposed project to expand school foodservice programs throughout the nation. This international collaboration project can serve as a model for the development of a nutrition program in developing countries to enhance the nutritional well-being of the children. Through the initiation, development and expansion of the school foodservice projects in Mongolia, the partnership ultimately strives to achieve the long-term goals: to evaluate students' health and physical capability; to identify a method to improve students' foods and nutrient consumption; to improve the entire population’s food consumption; to enhance the whole population's knowledge of meals or foods; and to improve the whole population’s health index. The initial and proposed school foodservice projects in Mongolia will provide a healthy environment for the children, the whole nation and developing countries like Mongolia. Efforts by researchers, government, non-profit organizations and anonymous volunteers will make the dream come true.
Dr. Sunny Ham, an assistant professor in the Nutrition and Food Science Department at the University of Kentucky in the United States, while involved in Korean nutrition/dietetics society with her expertise in school foodservice, was introduced to the Yellow Window Association for Nutrition Improvement. She is committed to providing consultation on the Mongolian school foodservice project. In addition, she plans to provide efforts on education and seminars on school foodservice by introducing US and Korean models which will benefit the Mongolian children and citizens. On behalf of the Yellow Window Association, she is very honored to have an opportunity to share the valuable endeavors with the American Dietetics Association. Special thanks go to Professor Enkhtaivan, a Mongolian representative of the project, and Ms. Jisung Woo, the Director of the Nutrition Improvement of the Yellow Window Association in Korea, for their enormous contribution and enthusiasm for the project and providing visual materials for this statement.