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Interview: Sitta Kai-Kai, UN World Food Programme, Central African Republic

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The Central African Republic has been plagued by internal fighting in recent years, forcing over 200,000 people to flee their homes and villages. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), most of the displaced people “live hidden in the bush to protect themselves from acts of violence and are the target of armed groups.”

In an impoverished country suffering from the chaos of conflict, food programs like school feeding are critical. In this interview with Sitta Kai-Kai, director of the UN World Food Programme in Central African Republic, we will look at the status of the country’s school feeding.

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

168,664 children out of 443,263 enrolled primary school children in Central African Republic.

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

WFP school feeding in Central African Republic has been very effective in increasing school enrollment. It has contributed to the increase in enrollment in its assisted schools, surpassing the planned figure by 12.2% (110,000 enrolled compared to the original 98,000).

School feeding addresses what is called “short term hunger” in classroom through school meals. Most children, especially in the conflict-affected north of the country, come to school in the morning, walking long distances on an empty stomach. School meals give them energy to concentrate on learning and stay in school.

WFP school feeding also improves and stabilizes pupils’ attendance. The attendance rates in schools regularly receiving school feeding stand high around 95%, while the rates are below 70% at schools assisted but experiencing food shortage.

In addition to these positive improvements in access to education, WFP “emergency school feeding” launched in schools in the conflict-affected north (most of them are “bush schools”) address different issues.

School feeding and the fact that their children eat at school reassures people in the conflict-affected and displaced communities and promotes a return to normalcy. School feeding helps the reopening of the schools and their normal operation. In contrast, teachers in schools that are not assisted by WFP are almost always on strike, resulting in the closure of those schools.

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

We are putting in place an emergency school feeding program that aims at reaching displaced communities. We continue to seek funding to increase our coverage. Our participation in the Fast Track Initiative is one way for us to get funding to promote school feeding as part of country’s efforts to achieve universal primary education.

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

• Fast Track Initiative / World Bank
• Consolidated Appeal Process (labeled “Coordinated Aid Programme” in Central African Republic);
• Private donations
• Different donor resources (both bilateral/multilateral).

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

The phenomenon has resulted in an unprecedented resource mobilization effort. However, as more people become food insecure because of high prices, the program continues to seek resources to address the food needs of vulnerable people. More money is now required than ever before to address the problem of food insecurity.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

Like any other WFP activity, WFP school feeding programs depend on voluntary funding from donors-either government, private sector, or individual. The funding is crucial to keep enough food provided in school.

Our experience shows that, in food insecure areas, when there is a break in food supply and school meals are not regularly served, there is a decrease in children’s concentration and attendance. School feeding in Central African Republic costs 19 US cents per child per day and 37 US$ per child per year. We would appreciate anyone’s contribution to pay these costs.

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

School feeding helps children to come to school and concentrate and learn. School feeding can help parents think twice before taking children out of school and having them work at home or in the field. It supports access to education. In the conflict-affected areas in Central African Republic, emergency school feeding in “bush schools” ensures that children’s schooling is not interrupted due to displacement and insecurity.

The meals for teachers allow them to continue despite irregular payment of their salary. School feeding is an investment for the future, contributing to the development of the human capital on which Central African Republic’s reconstruction depends. This is an investment that will pay off.

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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.