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Interview with Joan Fleuren, World Food Programme Director in Timor-Leste

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In the country of Timor-Leste (East Timor), over one-third of the population regularly suffers food shortages. Drought has hit this Asian nation in recent years and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is providing aid. According to WFP, “the estimated 40 percent of the population living below the poverty line consume less than 2,100 kcal required for a normal, healthy life.”

School feeding is a key component of WFP’s strategy for helping Timor-Leste overcome poverty. Joan Fleuren, WFP Country Director in Timor-Leste, talks about Food for Education in the following interview.

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

The World Food Programme and the Government of Timor-Leste are working together to provide school meals to children. Under the current national school feeding program, which runs through August 31, 2010, WFP is providing resources to feed approximately 230,000 children in Timor-Leste. This means that WFP provides food to 100% of the children in the country with the Ministry of Education providing supplementary foods.

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

The meal provided at school may be the first meal that a child eats for the day. Going without this meal makes it extremely difficult for children to concentrate in the classroom, so having a mid-morning meal or snack alleviates this problem. It also gives children the strength to be physically active and participate in games and other school activities. School meals play a crucial role in contributing to a child’s mental and physical development.

What plans are there for making school lunches available for all

children?

The government of Timor-Leste, through the Ministry of Education, has initiated a program to provide a free basic education for all. The program includes providing a free meal for all children in primary schools. WFP supports this government initiative with both technical and food assistance.

WFP also provides non-food items, such as cooking utensils, and aids in the construction and improvement of school kitchens and stores, capacity–building through training cooks, and monitoring and reporting to enhance the implementation of the program. WFP has supported the government with monitoring vehicles and computers for data processing and reporting.

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

In 2008, donors pledged additional funds to WFP worldwide to keep existing projects going at planned levels. A portion of those extra resources were allocated to our program in Timor-Leste. Although donor commitments may be under pressure from the global financial crisis, we hope resources for school feeding programs will be maintained at planned levels to ensure a better education — and future — for the children in Timor-Leste.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

More money is always needed to buy more food, and it costs only 25 cents to feed a child one meal at school each day. If people are interested in donating, they can visit Friends of WFP’s website. The main challenge for the government is to build human capacity to technically plan and implement a nationwide school feeding program. Therefore, technical support to the Ministry of Education is a priority.

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

Without school meals, many children might lose their opportunity to get a good education and become productive citizens in the future. In addition to helping children pay attention in class, the program has also proven to contribute to higher school completion rates. Therefore, it is essential that WFP continue to support education through the school feeding program to ensure a bright future for the children of Timor-Leste.

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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.