The West African nation of Guinea Bissau is still reeling from the destruction caused by an internal conflict in the late 1990s. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), “poverty, unemployment and social and economic problems aggravated by the crisis are causing nutritional problems among the most vulnerable population.”
Food and education for children are among the many steps needed for the rehabilitation of Guinea-Bissau. In the following interview with Damieta Gregório Mendes of the World Food Programme we will examine these vital school feeding programs.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP school feeding programs within the country?
For the academic year in 2007 and 2008, WFP Guinea-Bissau is feeding 105,014 children through school feeding programs.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition?
As a result of our project, the attendance rate has increased for boys to 92% and for girls to 93%. Regarding nutrition, the meals served for children reduce their short term hunger. School meals also reduce gender disparities between boys and girls - now the ratio of girls to boys is about 1:1 in most regions.
Here's an anecdotal story on the improvement of nutrition which we got from Catholic Mission sisters. Prior to the initiation of the WFP school feeding project, teachers noticed that a majority of girls used to faint in the classroom. They wondered what was causing the problem. After the WFP project started, the phenomenon stopped. Teachers figured out that the girls were being severely affected due to the lack of meals taken before coming to school.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
Our operations respond to food security by region. Thus, WFP has been focusing on targeted geographic areas subject to food insecurity. In addition, school meals have addressed the short-term food needs of vulnerable groups and primary school children living in food insecure rural areas where enrollment rates were low and drop-out high.