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Interview: Lara Evans, Global Food Program Officer of World Vision, on Afghanistan

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One of President Barack Obama’s biggest foreign policy challenges is securing a stable democracy in Afghanistan. Obama stated, “There will be no lasting peace unless we expand spheres of opportunity for the people of Afghanistan.”

Without food and education, Afghan children will not find any opportunities awaiting them. This is why universal school feeding is desperately needed in Afghanistan.

The charity, World Vision, is helping by providing school meals to Afghan children. This initiative is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education program. McGovern-Dole supports school meal initiatives in developing countries by providing funding to World Vision, the World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services, and other organizations. However, low funding from Congress forces most McGovern-Dole applications to be denied.

The World Vision program in Afghanistan is one of the great McGovern-Dole success stories. Lara Evans, A Global Food Program officer for World Vision, discusses school feeding in Afghanistan.

How many children are benefiting from the World Vision school feeding program in Afghanistan?

World Vision Afghanistan’s Food-for-Education program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), finished its fifth successive year in December 2008.

In 2003, before the program began, the Afghanistan Ministry of Education reported that fewer than 9,000 girls and only 27,000 boys attended school the western provinces of Badghis and Ghor. As a result of the program, school attendance has grown incrementally to 80,807 students in 266 schools.

One of the program’s greatest successes has been the increase in the number of girls attending school. In 2007, more than 23,000 girls were attending schools participating in World Vision Afghanistan’s Food for Education program – the highest number of girls attending school in Badghis and Ghor in the past 20 years.

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

School attendance in Badghis and Ghor, particularly by girls, has improved significantly as a result of the Food for Education program. Enrollment has reached record levels and the program has encouraged regular attendance (as 70 percent attendance rates are required for students to receive take-home food parcels).

Food aid is the main contributing factor in the target provinces in successfully increasing school attendance for girls, which skyrocketed from zero to more than 23,000. As the need for food aid increases through drought conditions and severe winters, the extra food that these girl children bring home not only provides for their families, but also encourages parents to continue their daughters’ educations, protecting these children from early marriage or child labor situations.

While performance and nutrition have not been specifically measured, the Food for Education program has promoted general health within the communities in which it operates.

World Vision Afghanistan integrates its Food for Education activities with other programs throughout Badghis, Ghor and Herat provinces. These programs include activities in healthcare, household livelihoods, food production and rehabilitation of agricultural infrastructure. The combined effects include improvements in the general health of community members there.

For example, World Vision Afghanistan became the first organization in the area to undertake a comprehensive approach to teaching health and hygiene by providing health education personnel in Badghis and the Chagcharan district of Ghor to teach children and teachers about health and hygiene.

In addition, the program has funded development of school fruit and vegetable gardens, literacy courses for adult women, and the distribution of oral rehydration salts to students for use during the dry, hot summer months

What is the funding status of this school feeding program in Afghanistan? Are there any plans for expansion?

The program currently has sufficient funds to run through early 2010. World Vision may apply for additional funding to continue the program beyond 2010. If additional funding is pursued, the proposal would be due during the summer of 2009.

What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?

World Vision would seek McGovern-Dole funding. World Vision received funding in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006. The program is still running on funding from the 2006 award, but, as I noted before, World Vision may apply for 2010 funding.

What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?

Rising food prices have not affected this specific program or the effort to fund it.

How can someone help World Vision and its school feeding efforts in Afghanistan?

While this program is entirely government-funded, there are many opportunities to donate to World Vision’s hunger-related programs globally. World Vision’s website offers a variety of ways to help stop hunger in vulnerable communities.

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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.