Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker recently wrote about the importance of education for stability in Afghanistan. Let's take this one step further. It is food and education that hold the key for lifting Afghan children, and their country, out of poverty.
When you combine food and education, you have a powerful one-two punch. Meals serve as an incentive for parents to send their kids to school. When a family is struggling in poverty, the safety net of a meal at school for their children becomes quite precious. If you add a take-home ration component to the school feeding, the child even becomes a sort of breadwinner. The whole family benefits and school attendance increases.
Once in school, it is the food that gives children the nourishment and energy they need to concentrate and learn. School feeding should be for all Afghan children. But many are not taking part.
The Aschiana Foundation says that there are 600,000 working street children in Afghanistan between the ages of 5 and 16. They support their families by scavenging on the streets or in garbage dumps for whatever they can get. These children are not in school learning about math, science, literature or conflict resolution. They are learning very early some of the worst hardships.
The BBC recently aired a television report on the tragedy of street children in Kabul. It was hardly the picture of reconstruction one would hope to see in Afghanistan.
The Aschiana Foundation works to help the street children enter the regular school system. They provide them with a few hours of tutoring and a nutritious meal.
The children of Afghanistan have been victims of years of war. Aschiana helps children who are forced to work to support their families (photo courtesy of the Aschiana Foundation)
Take-home rations would make an excellent addition to this program. The children could bring food home instead of having to forage for it. However, Aschiana has limited funding.
Perhaps the World Food Programme or another agency operating in Afghanistan could partner with Aschiana on a take-home rations initiative to help the street children.
It's important to note, particularly in Afghanistan, that the link between food and education begins long before a child even starts walking. Children who are malnourished in their first two years can suffer mental damage that inhibits learning. This is the time when the fate of the child can be determined.
No reconstruction effort for Afghanistan will be sound unless all children can attend school and receive meals with take-home rations. It is a relatively inexpensive investment, and one that is necessary for Afghanistan to someday thrive.
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