What can we do to help bring peace and prosperity to Afghanistan? To most, it looks like a complex problem, even hopeless. But some answers are simple. Take the 600,000 street children in Afghanistan today, living in poverty and forced to beg on the streets to support their families.
Why don’t we do what General Mark Clark and the U.S. military government did in Austria after World War II? They wanted to get kids off the streets and into a school with a meal program.
A U.S. military government report explained that not having schools open meant “cancellation of the ‘lunch’ program and the release of more than 100,000 children from the discipline of the school to roam at will throughout the city of Vienna.” That made an already difficult reconstruction for war-torn Austria that much worse.
The U.S. Army got the ball rolling on school feeding in Austria in September, 1945. The U.S. helped coordinate the efforts of charities such as the Red Cross, Save the Children and Catholic Relief Services, who worked to expand child feeding and rehabilitation. Eventually, UNICEF became the leader in terms of school lunch programs in Austria.
How might something similar work in Afghanistan for street children?
Today, we have agencies like the Aschiana Foundation and the Two Sparrows Foundation helping street children. They give them at least a temporary refuge from the streets and offer them literacy tutoring, vocational training, and a chance to join the regular education system. They also offer them meals. However, these charities often run low on funding. For instance, at one Aschiana center they had to stop serving food recently.
Aschiana says children in Afghanistan “are caught in a quagmire of illiteracy and poverty driving them to desperation. They are forced to find work, often on city streets. Some are orphans, some are refugees and some come from dysfunctional families. All have had their lives disrupted by years of war.” The training provided by dedicated charities is their only escape.
These kids need meals to go with their lessons. This is vital for fighting malnutrition and improving attendance and performance. As a safety net for the families, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) recently started a take-home ration program for 2,000 Aschiana students, so the children are not forced to beg for food on the streets. However, even WFP is facing a huge funding shortfall as it tries to feed seven million Afghans.
It is critical that funding for all these aid agencies be restored. WFP can then administer a comprehensive feeding program that reaches all the street children. This will include meals for children attending tutoring at Aschiana and other charities. It will also include the take-home ration initiative.
Food aid programs are generally some of the least expensive around, so cost should not be too significant a worry. A U.S. food ambassador could work out the details of the funding. This would be done in coordination with international governments and private organizations.
In addition, coordination with WFP on establishing the most cost-efficient means of providing the food will be crucial. Where possible, local purchase of the food can be implemented under the direction of WFP.
If you are looking for progress and hope in Afghanistan, invest in universal feeding for children. Let it begin by feeding the street children.