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An Interview with Eliane da Conceicao of Catholic Relief Services in Sierra Leone

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In Sierra Leone, think of the hardships for children growing up in a country that had a civil war in the 1990s. These children inherited the legacy of that war which is poverty, a damaged infrastructure, and a poor economy.

To shape their future, the children need reconstruction programs quickly. Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the official relief and development agency of the U.S. Catholic community, is doing just that. CRS is operating a school meal program in Sierra Leone.

A meal at school does more than feed children. It feeds their minds as it improves performance at school. It also encourages parents to send their kids to school knowing that the meal is available there. For families who live in poverty, this means a great deal.

This school meal initiative is funded by a grant from the McGovern-Dole Food for Education program. McGovern-Dole is run by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Charities like Catholic Relief Services apply for McGovern-Dole grants every year. Most are rejected because the program has such little funding from Congress. Fortunately, CRS was able to obtain funding for this program in Sierra Leone.

Recently, Eliane da Conceicao of Catholic Relief Services took time to answer some questions about school feeding in Sierra Leone.

How many children are benefiting from the CRS school lunch program in Sierra Leone?

The number of beneficiaries (students) currently benefiting from the school feeding program is 10,338 students in 61 schools in Sulima and Mongo chiefdoms in the Koinadugu District, in the northern part of Sierra Leone. The program provides hot meals to students for both breakfast and lunch.

The plan this year is to expand the program to 42 schools in two new chiefdoms of the same district. With the expansion, the estimated number of students who will be reached by the program is 16,424.

The program also provides a quarterly take-home ration to girls in grades IV – VI who attain a minimum attendance rate of 80% per month. Over 3,000 are targeted for this take-home ration distribution.

What has been the effect of the meals in terms of school attendance and performance?

Although the school feeding program has only started in April 2009, it has had a positive effect on students’ attendance. Attendance of boys at baseline is 59.26%. With the meals provision, attendance level has increased to 85.5% in June 2009 (the last full month of school year) which represents a 26.24% net increase in boys’ attendance rate. Girls’ attendance rate also increased from 62.89% at baseline to 88.75%, which represents a 25.86% net increase in girls’ attendance.

Teachers also reported that the provision of meals has increased students' alertness and their participation in classroom activities.

Will the program be expanded to reach more children in Sierra Leone?

Since the project is designed to cater for approximately 17,000 students and we are just currently serving 10,338 students, we have the plan to expand the program to other two chiefdoms, Neya and Neini, to reach more children in Sierra Leone.

What would be the source of funding for any expansion of the Program?

CRS in Sierra Leone intends to submit a follow-on proposal to USDA for program continuation and expansion at the end of this three-year phase. CRS is also seeking funds from USAID/Food for Peace through its Multi-year Assistance Development (MYAP) to reinforce its health and agriculture activities in the region for a more holistic and sustainable development in the program area.

How can someone help the CRS school feeding program in Sierra Leone?

Market the program through article or documentary publication on the program.

Provide funds to facilitate linkage to other donors for:

1. Teachers training as more than 300 teachers (over 70%) are unqualified and the FFE program will only help 60 teachers to get a national teaching certificate through training.

2. Classroom infrastructure improvements as more than 60 % of the infrastructures are made of makeshift structures or need repair and the FFE program cannot cover all the repair costs.

For more information about Catholic Relief Services please visit their web site.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.
  • Luella pearl

    Feeding children to encourage them to attend school is a great idea. But your progras will do twice the good if it sources the food in Sierra Leone, or elsewhere in West Africa. Too often McGovern-Dole programs but expensive cereal from farmers in the US and ship it to Africa – harming local farmers who need the business.