Devastated by the cyclone of May 2008, Myanmar is a nation in desperate need of assistance to recover. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), “The hardest hit villages saw families lose all their farming assets, together with their houses and food stores for the rest of the year.” In Myanmar the World Food Programme helps children and their families by providing take-home rations at school. In the following interview with Hakan Tongul, WFP Assistant Country Director for Myanmar, we will look more closely at this Food for Education program.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP school feeding programs within the country?
In Myanmar close to a quarter of a million primary school children benefit from food assistance programs. 241,258 students attend 1,687 schools in three specific areas: Northern Rakhine State by the Bangladesh border, Magway Division in the central dry zone, and Shan State by the Thai-Chinese border received food assistance in 2007-08. Students come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Primary schools teach in different languages such as Chinese, Shan, Kachin and Wa, reflecting the rich cultural make-up of Myanmar.
The current academic year began in June and the first distributions will take place at the end of July. Food assistance is channeled through a take-home ration program called Food for Education, where regularly attending primary students receive take-home rations of rice on a monthly basis.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition.
The Food for Education program in Myanmar aims at increasing enrollment and attendance among primary students. By providing 10 kilograms of rice to each primary student who attends at least 80% of the school days in a given month, the program ensures that poor families are able to send their children to primary school. The rice incentive has maintained attendance at 93% with enrollment rates of 73% in the targeted project areas. These high percentages ensure that poor vulnerable families are able to send their children to school and build a better future. However, when there are shortages in donor funding, such as in this academic year, WFP is unable to provide rice. This adversely affects families' abilities to send their children to school.
What plans are there for making school lunches available for all children?
In Myanmar WFP does not undertake any institutional feeding programs, hence, the food support cannot be defined as “school feeding” but rather a "food for education" program. It is based on the objective of increasing both enrollment and attendance rates in the targeted poor vulnerable village schools.