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Interview with Camilo Guerrero González, Fundación Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Foundation)

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When former President Herbert Hoover traveled to Colombia in May of 1946, he found some much needed help in the struggle against global hunger. Hoover was serving as a food ambassador for President Harry Truman. Colombia was one of over 30 nations he visited to assess food supplies in the midst of a major global hunger crisis.

Hoover wrote in his memoirs, “We were also greeted by a most eloquent and understanding editorial in El Tiempo, the leading journal in Colombia. It described accurately the great food crisis in the world and urged the people and the Colombian government to co-operate in full.”

He stated how his food crisis team also made use of this editorial in other Spanish-speaking countries. He noted that the media in Colombia helped spread the word about the crisis, giving extensive coverage of his global hunger speech in Chicago earlier that month.

With food supplies so limited after World War II, Colombia did what it could to help other nations. The Colombian government agreed to cancel its request “in Washington for 50,000 tons of wheat,” and agreed to put on a food conservation program. Hoover stated, “Colombian leadership and Colombian moral support are of infinite value” in the fight against hunger and poverty in the aftermath of World War II.

Today, Colombia needs this same spirit as it struggles with its own hunger, poverty, and internal conflict. Fighting between the government and insurgent forces has displaced millions of people. Fortunately, there are heroes dedicated to fighting these social injustices such as the members of the Fundacion Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Foundation).

Founded by singer Shakira Mebarak, the Barefoot Foundation supports schools in Colombia that are giving children a chance to escape poverty. Crucial to the Barefoot Foundation’s mission of education for all is providing school meals. Recently, Camilo Guerrero González, of the Barefoot Foundation in Colombia, discussed the importance of school meals for children.

How many children are receiving school meals from the Barefoot Foundation in Colombia?

Currently, 4.000 children receive daily meals in Fundación Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Foundation) supported schools:

– Quibdó, in the pacific región of Chocó: Pies Descalzos School.
– Barranquilla, in the caribbean coast: Las Americas School and Fundación Pies Descalzos School.
– Soacha, in the outskirts of Bogotá: Gabriel García Márquez School.

Discuss the importance of these meals in terms of improving nutrition, classroom attendance, and performance.

For many children attending our schools, the meal they receive at school is the only they have during the day. Our nutrition program acts as a complement and support to education, because it’s evident that well nourished children are in better condition for learning. Good nutrition helps improve concentration and performance during classes. Furthermore, having a full stomach influences overall health status, reducing non-attendance due to sickness.

Given their situation of vulnerability, the school meal becomes a stimulus for children to attend school, helping reduce desertion rates. It is also a strategy for combating child labor, because we have identified that many parents sent their children to work in order to increase family income, earning the money necessary for their nutrition.

Our feeding program also integrates community development strategies, involving mothers in the operation of the school restaurants. In order to accomplish this, they receive training and support in the process of forming a cooperative.

This is a general description of our program:

Nutrition: Seeking to strengthen and improve the nutritional status of children of school age, providing daily nourishing food through school restaurants, implementing a nutritional assessment system and promoting a participatory culture of nutrition, creating healthy lifestyles to improve food security in the communities.

Actions:
a. Daily Food: providing breakfast and lunch to all children during the school year, seeking to fulfill 75% of daily food requirements.

b. Monitoring and nutritional assessment: Twice a year, nutrition professionals carry out a size and weight measurement with all children, in order to establish the progress made in nutritional status. This action encourage the participation of older students and it requires a specific software.

c. De-worming and vaccination: Once a year, children receive the necessary doses of vaccines and anti parasites. Additional home monitoring is implemented to verify the outcomes.

d. Training workshops on hygiene and eating habits: Every six months we provide a training workshop on hygiene and eating habits to parents and 96 teachers of the educational institutions we serve, with the goal of improving knowledge and awareness of proper food handling, its nutritional value, and its preparation, in order eradicate infectious and viral diseases. This training is carried out by health and nutrition professionals.

e. Workshops on health promotion and access to public health system: Seminaries about accessing public health services and exercising fundamental rights, performed by law professionals.

f. Improvement of school restaurants: Ensuring adequate equipment for the provision of a high quality service.

g. Training in food preparation and cooperative making for community mothers in charge of the operation of the school restaurants.

Tell us something about the children who are participating in the school feeding program. What are some of their favorite subjects?

Beneficiaries of our programs are vulnerable and/or displaced children and youngsters of school age in the three regions mentioned above.

Children manifest a preference for creative subjects, such as arts and music. This is a very important emphasis of the schools we sponsor.

What is the status of funding for the Barefoot Foundation’s school feeding programs in Colombia? Are there plans to expand the school feeding to reach more children?

Fundación Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Foundation) current annual budget for programs is approximately US$ 3 million. 27% of total budget is destined to nutrition.

Have high food prices made it more difficult to provide meals to the same amount of children?

Yes, especially in a city like Quibdó, which is in some degree isolated from the rest of the country, with poor roads and infrastructure. Furthermore, it has been a territory dramatically affected by the internal conflict. In some occasions commerce has been blocked into the city and that makes food prices rise significantly.

However, there is always a margin for price increases and inflation in the planning of our projects, so we can guarantee sustainability throughout the year.

Does the Barefoot Foundation partner with other organizations in Colombia in terms of school feeding?

The foundation Works hand-in-hand with institutions such as ICBF (Colombian Family Welfare Institute) and local Family Benefit Funds for the provision of school meals, improving access to nutrition and school restaurant service standards.

Pies Descalzos partners with international NGOs for funding of the program. In addition to this, it establishes alliances with local NGOs and institutions for the operation of school restaurants, monitoring and training activities.

How can someone get involved and help the Barefoot Foundation’s school feeding and other projects?

Anyone interested should visit our Spanish or English website where they can find instructions on:

– Becoming a volunteer: sharing time and knowledge in the implementation of our multiple programs.
– Sponsoring a child through our “godparent program”: supporting children with monthly donations and developing a long-lasting relationship with them.
– Donating: choosing a program of their preference and donating in kind or monetary resources.

Does the Barefoot Foundation plan to support school feeding in other countries? Is this the purpose of the U.S. based office of the Barefoot Foundation?

Fundación Pies Descalzos (Barefoot Foundation) doesn’t plan to expand its school feeding program to other countries. Our current priority is strengthening our operation and improving quality of service in the three areas of intervention in Colombia. The U.S-based Barefoot Foundation has the purpose of raising and channeling funds, but it’s not directly involved in the implementation of feeding programs.

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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.
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