Mindy Mizell of World Vision is traveling through the Horn of Africa to report on the relief efforts for famine and drought victims. Amid so much chaos and horror Mizell finds rays of hope, such as 13-year-old Abdillahi, a Somali refugee living in Dadaab, Kenya. His family was forced to flee Somalia to find food and escape the violence.
Here is a child confronted with war and famine and Mizell said he never uttered a single complaint or talked about how unfortunate he was. Instead, he remained positive and upbeat.
Mizell writes, “I guess I expected him to say that he wanted more food, more water, better clothes or maybe a soccer ball. Instead, Abdillahi told me he wanted to go to school again! Not only did Abdillahi believe he had a bright future, but he spent several minutes advocating on behalf of his Somali friends and telling me that they all needed to go to school in order to find good jobs someday.”
World Vision’s Mindy Mizell interviews Abdillahi, 13, in the Dadaab refugee camp. (World Vision photo)
Young Abdillahi just pointed the way to what can end hunger and build peace in the Horn of Africa: education and food.
In responding to the drought in East Africa, it’s vital to ensure that all children can receive school meals and an education. This is extremely challenging, especially in areas where there are refugees and host communities all with great needs.
Lisa Doherty of UNICEF explains, “In some cases there have been massive influxes of communities and school-aged children into urban areas where there aren’t school facilities to absorb them all.”
UNICEF states that “school feeding, provision of learning materials and teacher incentives and additional learning spaces are the top priorities in order to ensure that children can access learning opportunities, many for the first time.”
Rozanne Chorlton, UNICEF Somalia Representative says, “Education is a critical component of any emergency response. Schools can provide a place for children to come to learn, as well as access health care and other vital services. Providing learning opportunities in safe environments is critical to a child’s survival and development and for the longer term stability and growth of the country.”
This is similar to what the U.S. Army did after World War II. For example, in Vienna, Austria, the U.S. military government helped reopen schools and start a feeding program. They did not want children roaming the streets, and giving them food at school was a top priority with post-war malnutrition rates climbing. The Army and food ambassador Herbert Hoover recognized the such programs were critical and needed to be strengthened and expanded. School feeding provided by the Allies and others after the war was a key defense, as famine threatened to attack many nations at that time.
Today, school meals play an urgent role in providing for refugee children in East Africa. Sandra Bulling of CARE says, “we are currently planning to set up lunch programs for the accelerated learning program of newly arrived refugee children, many of whom have never been to school before.”
Aid agencies are mobilizing to help children through this crisis and open the door to a better life in the future. But will there be enough funding? Fighting hunger and building children’s education is an area of neglect in the foreign policy of many governments. How do you change this? It’s up to the public to tell their representatives in government that it should be a top priority for all children to receive school meals and an education.
That is what can make a difference in the long term for children in East Africa and elsewhere who just want to go to school again.
See videos from the World Food Programme’s WeFeedback page.