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Interview with James Jones of World Vision, Burundi

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The charity World Vision is helping to build peace in the African nation of Burundi. World Vision's work includes fighting child hunger and bolstering education through school feeding. James Jones, Program Management Officer for World Vision's Integrated Nutrition and Food Team, talks about how vital Food for Education is for children.

The Integrated School Feeding Initiative to Enhance Primary Education in Burundi is funded by the World Food Program and is carried out by World Vision, Burundi in coordination with World Vision, Korea.

The program is operated out of 123 primary schools in the Karusi and Cankuzo provinces. The 12-month project is worth a total of $5,332,370. Of that amount, $4,638,930 represents the cost of some 4,951 metric tons of food commodities. In addition, $693,440 in cash covers complementary activities like the distribution of school supplies, agricultural inputs, clothes, medical equipment, and hygiene supplies, as well as staff and administrative costs.

World Vision is scheduled to complete the current phase of the project in September, 2009.

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

World Vision had planned to reach 97,030 children through the program. But as of March 2009, the program is actually reaching 102,974 students.

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

Though the Government of Burundi declared free and mandatory primary education for all students in 2005, many Burundian children do not complete primary school. “Food insecurity” is one of the leading factors keeping children from school.

Only 16 percent of Burundi’s population is estimated to have enough nutritious food –- and structures in place to ensure that they continue to have enough, even during difficult times. As a result, even small family hardships can cause parents to pull their children from school, partially so they can use funds set aside for school fees to purchase food, and partially so that their children can work to provide additional income for the family.

Those reactions are compounded by cultural factors. Many families continue to prioritize educating their sons over their daughters. As a result, many school-aged girls end up engaging in domestic work, farm labor, and even early marriage instead of getting an education. This is particularly true for children in grades 4-6 in rural areas.

In addition to food insecurity and families’ common responses to it, poor health is a major concern. Children in Burundi miss an average of 16 days of school per year due primarily to preventable illnesses related to diarrhea and to fever from malaria and parasite infestations. Further, developmental damage resulting from early malnutrition (between the ages of six months and five years) also keeps children from gaining the full benefits of the schooling they receive.

Even when children are able to attend school regularly, the quality of education they receive is severely limited.

  • School infrastructure is inadequate.
  • Teacher training is poor.
  • Teachers often lack basic curriculum and supplies.
  • Students often lack basic materials such as textbooks, notebooks, and pencils.
  • School schedules are often irregular as a result of teachers’ migration and strikes.
  • Classrooms are often overcrowded and many don’t even have enough desks and chairs.

Notwithstanding these obstacles, a number of studies, including a WFP/WV July 2008 School Feeding project evaluation report, have conclusively shown that well-run school feeding programs do help to improve education conditions, especially if they form part of a more integrated approach.

The WFP 2001 feasibility study on Burundi’s education system and WFP/WV July 2008 School Feeding project evaluation findings conclude that school feeding projects increase enrollment, have a moderate effect on reducing short-term absences, and, most importantly, have a greater effect on limiting prolonged absences.

Nevertheless, it is also clear that “standalone” school feeding projects are simply not enough by themselves to achieve desired outcomes, especially given all the inherent challenges in Burundi. Clearly, a strong and integrated set of activities is needed to better position Burundian children to successfully complete their primary education.

The Integrated School Feeding Initiative to Enhance Primary Education in Burundi is designed to

  • improve primary school enrollment, attendance and learning capacity
  • improve the status of student health and awareness of HIV and AIDS in the target primary schools
  • improve students’ academic achievement levels and
  • improve students’ agricultural skills and the diversity of their diets.

In addition, given World Vision’s strong commitment to supporting quality education, a number of complementary activities are being implemented with private funding, including the distribution of school supplies, agricultural inputs, clothes, medical equipment, and hygiene supplies.

The synergy created when these privately supported activities are integrated with WFP proposed interventions are improving health and sanitation conditions, HIV and AIDS awareness, food availability, and income-generation capacity that leads to increased program impact.

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

The resources required for this project come from different sources. World Vision Burundi provided $459,842 of the required cash through funding from support offices raised through private match funding sources.

WFP provided the remaining $233,598, plus the costs of transporting the food commodities from WV Warehouses at Karusi and Cankuzo to the target schools.

At this point, we do not know if the project will be expanded for FY10.

What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program? What has been the effect of rising food prices on this funding effort?

If this project is expanded, World Vision would seek contributions from its private donors for funding to match that of the World Food Program.

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

Because World Vision depends on private donations to match funding from the World Food Program, people can help World Vision’s school feeding efforts in Burundi by donating either by calling 1-888-511-6593 or online at the World Vision website.

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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.