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Interview: Carlo Scaramella, World Food Programme Country Director, El Salvador

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In an article for the Tennessean newspaper (12/27/2007), Jennifer Mizgata, of the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), emphasized the importance of school feeding for developing countries. Mizgata wrote, “As we long ago discovered in the U.S., providing a simple meal each day not only encourages students to stay in school, but helps them focus in the classroom. For many children in the poorest countries, this is the only meal they receive each day.”

School meals in support of education are vital ingredients for a developing nation, but in impoverished countries it is a significant challenge to provide these meals. At a time of high food prices the task becomes even more difficult. In El Salvador, the WFP is helping the government develop a self-sufficient school feeding program for all its children. We will look more closely at this program in this interview with Carlo Scaramella, the WFP Country director for El Salvador.

How many children are benefiting from the WFP school feeding programs within the country?

The transfer of the school feeding program to the El Salvador Government (Ministry of Education) was completed at the end of 2007 as part of an agreed plan between state authorities and WFP. The plan involved a gradual transfer of funding and operational responsibilities during the final years of WFP program administration. By the end of 2007, WFP handed the last two departments (Morazan and Auachapan) over to the state.

Meanwhile, the government was able to ensure the absorption of the school feeding program funding requirements under the regular state budget, providing long term sustainability for the program. Currently, about 750,000 children receive regular school feeding program support in the country.

Concurrent with the transfer of responsibility, WFP and the Ministry of Education have been developing a Memorandum of Understanding regarding continuing school feeding program collaboration in several areas, including procurement, logistics, programming, quality control, monitoring, and evaluation. This agreement, signed in February 2008, was particularly timely in allowing WFP to step up its collaboration with the Ministry of Education, among others, in strategic procurement at a time of rising food prices.

This allows us to mitigate the impact of rising prices on the implementation of the program. Additionally, WFP will support the extension of the program to another 100,000 students, as part of the government social protection strategy to combat the food price crisis. These initiatives are all being implemented through government funding, as part of the Memorandum of Understanding; and via a trust fund managed by WFP.

Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance, and nutrition.

The effects have been extremely positive. School feeding programs have increased school attendance and improved nutrition. The mainstreaming of an important social program is a significant achievement.

What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program? What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?

This is an issue. We have seen our budget double and food prices have to be renegotiated. However, the government is making necessary resources available by ensuring a budget for the program from the regular budget.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

There are many ways to get involved. Individuals can help fight hunger by making a donation to the WFP, joining a social network that supports school feeding, or producing information to raise awareness about hunger.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?

School feeding is important because it addresses social equality. The program protects kids who would otherwise be left with no opportunity. Donations fund an act of generosity and respect for children.

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.