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Interview: Louis Imbleau, World Food Programme Country Director in Liberia

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Liberia is recovering from a civil war which lasted from 1989-2003. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) reports, “The war displaced nearly one million Liberians, left the country’s infrastructure in shreds and wiped out health and education systems.”

How do you overcome such history? Think of the challenges Liberians face in restoring the community life that many of us take for granted. It must start with ensuring enough food, particularly for children. As George Marshall once said, "Food is the very basis of all reconstruction," and this holds true for Liberia. But without enough funding and support, programs like Food for Education will not be available for all children. Louis Imbleau, the country director for WFP in Liberia, discusses how important school meals are for the children.

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

550,000 school children are benefiting from WFP school feeding programs in Liberia.

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

According to a WFP School Feeding Baseline Survey (June 2007), school enrollment increased by 69 percent from 2005/06 to 2006/07 in schools that had begun school feeding programs in 2006/07. The average enrollment increased by 50 percent for schools that began their programs before the 2006/07 school year. The Self-Evaluation of School Feeding (June 2006) found that the program "has proved effective in increasing the enrollment of Liberian children in primary schools" and "improving their learning capacity". The Comprehensive Food Security and Nutrition Survey (2006) showed a consistently strong positive correlation between enrollment rates and school feeding support for all age groups surveyed. Households that benefit from school feeding have a 20 percent higher school enrollment rate for children ages five through twelve than households that do not benefit from school feeding.

What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?

The school feeding program targets and provides meals for the children most vulnerable to hunger and malnutrition. Currently, there are no plans to expand the program due to logistics and funding.

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

The Liberian government has shown definite interest and political will in seeing an expansion in the school feeding program, but it simply lacks the resources to contribute more funding. In the present circumstances, funding for any expansion of school feeding will have to come from external donors.

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

WFP Liberia has seen increased donor support in the face of high food prices. This has allowed the expansion of school feeding to include an additional 150,000 children in Monrovia from households most affected by high food prices. It remains to be seen whether this funding trend will continue beyond the current school year.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

Those who are interested in supporting the program can help by mobilizing additional funding for the program, including for logistics resources such as trucks. They can also support community and government capacity in the implementation and management of the school feeding program.

Anything else you'd like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?

School feeding is an effective way of both overcoming short-term child hunger and strengthening the incentive for long-term school enrollment and attendance. This is especially the case in the situation in Liberia, where high levels of food insecurity co-exist with high rates of illiteracy. Therefore, school feeding is crucial in helping to overcome barriers to development in Liberia.

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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.