Sunday , April 21 2024
More resources are needed to increase the number of children who receive a daily meal and acquire basic education in Sierra Leone.

Interview: Christa Räder, World Food Programme Country Director for Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone continues to recover from a decade-long civil war that ended in 2001. The war destroyed most of the country's socioeconomic and physical infrastructure, and caused unprecedented population displacement.

Domestic production of rice, the country’s main staple, currently only meets about 70 percent of the consumption requirements. The remainder needs to be imported at increasingly expensive prices.

Located in West Africa, Sierra Leone ranks last out of the 177 countries listed in the latest United Nations Human Development Index. About 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and is vulnerable to food insecurity, while 26 percent cannot even afford the minimum daily calorific requirements.

Sierra Leone has one of the highest child malnutrition rates as well. Nine percent of children below five years are acutely malnourished and about 40 percent are chronically malnourished, not able to live up to their physical and mental potential.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is helping Sierra Leone fight hunger and poverty. In the following interview with Christa Räder, WFP Country Director for Sierra Leone, we will look at school feeding programs that combat child hunger.

How many children are benefiting from the WFP School Feeding Program within the country?

WFP supports basic education with the main objective of improving school enrollment and stabilizing attendance and completion, particularly for girls in vulnerable communities. WFP provides cereals, pulses, and vegetable oil, which are served in the form of a daily lunch to more than 225,000 school children in over 900 public schools across eight districts in the north, south and east of the country. Additionally, pulses are given as incentive to the families of 5,000 girls in grades four to six in areas that are characterized by high levels of food insecurity and low school completion rates for girls.

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

In Sierra Leone, boys and girls have to perform considerable amounts of work in their families. Girls are required to help with household chores, while boys are needed on the farm. Thus, the decision to send a child to school is not only a matter of expenses, but also of substantial opportunity costs in terms of the children’s contribution to the household.

The School Feeding Program has been successful in attracting and retaining more children at school; it has also greatly contributed to increasing the children’s attention span and their learning potential. Between 2005 and 2007, the number of children enrolled in school feeding increased 40 percent. The attendance rate of those who are enrolled has also significantly increased – to 97 percent. Children who otherwise may have stayed at home to work, have been given the opportunity to learn. Most of the girls (about 80 percent) who take part in the National Primary School Examinations in WFP-supported schools successfully graduate to secondary schools. WFP School Feeding also encourages high achievement!

What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?

More than 1.3 million children are enrolled in primary schools in Sierra Leone. By the end of 2008, WFP plans to increase the number of assisted schools from 900 to 1,500, which will also include schools in urban and peri-urban areas. This will increase the number of children who receive a daily meal at school to about 350,000, i.e. about one quarter of all primary school children. Many more are poor and food-insecure, and would benefit from a daily meal at school. UNICEF and WFP are working with the Government of Sierra Leone to make basic education a national priority. The Government is also expected to eventually assume full operational responsibility of a country-wide School Feeding Program.

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?

The country remains extremely vulnerable to global commodity price changes. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has listed Sierra Leone as one of eight countries globally which are most vulnerable to the current food price crisis. World Bank projections from May 2008 indicate that an additional 150,000-200,000 people are being pushed below the poverty line by high commodity prices. In 2008, WFP Sierra Leone expects funding for the School Feeding Program to total US $25 million. In light of the high food prices, an additional US $3 million is required to cover school feeding in urban and peri-urban areas, and ensure that children are not withdrawn from schools by families in economic crisis.

How can someone help the School Feeding Program?

WFP has vast experience in implementing School Feeding Programs. More resources are needed to increase the number of children who receive a daily meal and acquire basic education. WFP Sierra Leone would require donors who commit resources for a multi-year expansion of the regular School Feeding Program. Every additional school covered will give another 200 to 300 children a chance to learn for a better future!

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

The School Feeding Program can transform schools into potential centers for addressing a range of children’s needs. Complementary activities include: improved learning materials, teachers’ training, de-worming, micronutrient supplementation, water and sanitation at school, health and nutrition education, HIV/AIDS education, and school gardens. Support to enhance community participation and establish community school gardens that can provide fresh vegetables and condiments would further help in diversifying the children’s diet.

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.

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