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Interview: Sarah Klonski, West Bank Coordinator, World Food Programme

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Any peace plan for the Middle East has to address the hunger and poverty afflicting the Palestinian people, particularly the children. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is attempting to do this through school feeding initiatives in the West Bank and Gaza. School feeding not only fights hunger and malnutrition, but also boosts education.

In Gaza, restriction of access resulting from the long-standing conflict with Israel prevented the WFP school feeding program from starting in September. With the recent escalation of violence, WFP is struggling to provide life-saving assistance to civilians caught in the conflict. When the fighting does end, many aid programs like school feeding will be desperately needed to help Gaza rebuild.

In the West Bank, school feeding is under way with extremely promising results. In the following interview, we will look more closely at this program with Sarah Klonski, the West Bank Coordinator of the World Food Programme.

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

A total of 54,858 children — composed of 38,858 school children and 16,000 kindergarten children — are currently benefiting from the WFP School feeding program in the West Bank.

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

Although we have not yet proceeded with the nutritional follow-up survey of the School feeding program, the yearly program evaluations have clearly demonstrated diverse positive effects on children, teachers, and local communities.

Attendance and enrolment rates are usually high in the occupied Palestinian territory, due to the mandatory primary education system. However, children have reported an increased motivation to attend school and a better focus on learning. This has also been confirmed through interviews and focus group discussions with parents and teachers.

A positive impact has also been observed regarding social behaviors in class. Students tend to be less aggressive and feel more equal, as they all receive the same breakfast.

With regard to nutrition, many children do not have breakfast at home, and thus, they used to become sleepy and nervous during morning hours. Moreover, as part of the school feeding program, the distribution of mid-morning snacks is complemented through school health lessons by the Ministry of Education. Hence, school children are well aware about their nutritional needs and the benefits of the school feeding program.

Are there plans for expanding the school feeding program in the West Bank?

The current school feeding year of 2008-2009 is already part of the expansion phase in the West Bank. A first, small pilot was introduced in early 2007, and expanded in November 2007. However, considering the huge number of school children in the occupied Palestinian territory, there is much space for a further expansion of the program.

The WFP School feeding program has achieved a high popularity within the local community, and an expansion is more than feasible in the West Bank. The Ministry of Education, and more generally the Palestinian National Authority, has been extremely supportive to the program and showed a very strong commitment to School Health and Child Nutrition.

What would be the source of funding for any expansion?

The 2008-2009 school feeding year has been funded by the Italian Cooperation. A new source of funding for a potential expansion has not yet been identified.

How can someone get involved in supporting the school feeding program?

Any contribution to the school feeding program can be channeled through the WFP Fund Raising & Communications Department at Headquarters, the school feeding service at Headquarters, or through direct contact with the WFP office in occupied Palestinian territory.

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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.