The Democratic Republic of the Congo has suffered enormously from armed conflict within its borders. Millions of lives have been lost. Many others have been forced to flee fighting in different sections of the country. According to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), “Nearly one million people are estimated to be displaced in North and South Kivu alone.” In such a war-torn land hunger and poverty are rampant. School feeding programs are a key part of the World Food Programme’s response to the crisis. We will take a closer look at school feeding in this interview with Emily Doe, WFP Programme Officer in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP school-feeding programs within the country?
Between January and May of 2008, WFP fed over 260,000 primary school children and about 12,000 pre-school children in four provinces (North and South Kivu, Katanga, and Equateur). We are targeting over 530,000 children in 1085 schools in six of the 11 provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo starting September, 2008. We will gradually increase to assisting 595,000 children during 2009. The program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is emergency school feeding, so 10,500 teachers are also targeted for feeding to encourage them come to school regularly (despite low salaries and delays in payments).
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition?
The hot meals, served six days a week, are a motivating factor for parents to send children to school and for the children themselves to remain in school. Most families in the Democratic Republic of the Congo cannot afford more than one meal a day, served in the evening before bedtime. Most children go to school on an empty stomach, therefore the meal taken at school compensates for breakfast and lunch. The meals are served during recreation (mid-morning) and gives children the energy needed to make it through the rest of the school day. The feeding encourages regular school attendance and allows children to be more attentive and focused during class. Parents prefer to send their children to schools which run the feeding program because they are assured their children will have a meal and be less likely to leave class due to hunger. School feeding has become even more critical with the on-going food price crisis.
The food basket (cereals, pulses, vegetable oil, and salt) is quite balanced in terms of nutritional value. The food basket for pre-school children (corn soya blend, oil, and sugar) is strictly for nutritional purposes. Most areas where the program runs have high levels of food insecurity and problems of malnutrition. The feeding is meant to help combat malnutrition.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
WFP intervenes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo through a Protracted Relief and Rehabilitation Operation in provinces where vulnerability to food insecurity has been analyzed as very high. Most of the assistance is humanitarian emergency assistance, in particular life-saving activities (related to internally displaced persons and returnees). Therefore, WFP is not and cannot be the solution to making school meals available to all children. There are over 20,000 public primary schools and WFP is reaching only 5% of that number in the six provinces of intervention. With a strong involvement and more resources, the Congolese government, together with donors and other operational partners, could gradually increase the number of benefiting schools.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?
The current objective of providing food in six provinces to 530,000 pupils is already a challenge for WFP in the global context of the fuel and food crisis. For WFP operations to meet their goals, more funds are required to reach the same amount of beneficiaries. Over a period of a few months, costs for WFP operations have increased by a third. Therefore, additional funding will guarantee that WFP meets its objective of reaching 530,000 beneficiaries for the 2008-2009 school year. WFP is presently facing a pipeline break, with shortfalls of 109,759 metric tons of food from August, 2008 to July, 2009 (equivalent to USD 150 million). Expansion can only be considered once the WFP pipeline is secure over the entire period of the assistance. If Food For Peace, World Bank, EU, and other generous donors can provide funding, the program would expand.
What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?
With the food pipeline breaks that are affecting the WFP operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reaching our target is already a huge challenge. It has forced us to cut down on the amount of food provided to beneficiaries and has also forced us to prioritize activities which are considered life-saving (general food distribution to internally displaced persons and returning refugees, assistance to children in therapeutic and supplementary feeding centers). National export bans applied to alleviate the consequences of the crisis in several neighboring countries that are regular food suppliers to WFP in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Tanzania, Zambia, etc.) have added to the toil.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
The program is supported through donations. Donations can be specified for WFP’s School Feeding Program through the “child hunger” option on the WFP website, or can be sent via mail to Friends of WFP at:
Friends of the World Food Program, Inc.
1819 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
For more specific information on the Democratic Republic of the Congo school feeding, direct contact can be made with the following:
Anything else you'd like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?
The future of any nation depends on the education of its children. Hungry children cannot perform well in their schoolwork and therefore food is key to their overall success. Parents depend heavily on school feeding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide daily meals for their children; and the program is making such a huge difference in the lives of both the children and their families. Fifty dollars can save the life of a hungry child in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and keep him/her in class all year through the provision of hot meals at school.