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Chronic food insecurity and structural poverty seriously reduce opportunities for children in many parts of Rwanda to complete their primary education.

Interview: Guy Adoua of the UN World Food Programme in Rwanda

Rwanda is on the long road to recovery from the 1994 genocide that devastated the African nation. Hunger and poverty still grip the country. The way out of this vicious cycle is food and education. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is helping provide school meals to fight child hunger and promote class attendance. Lets take a closer look at this program with Guy Adoua, a World Food Programme officer in Rwanda.

How many children benefit from the WFP school feeding programs in Rwanda?

WFP Rwanda is providing food assistance to 300,000 primary schoolchildren, in 300 schools located in the most food-insecure zones of Rwanda.

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

Chronic food insecurity and structural poverty seriously reduce opportunities for children in many parts of Rwanda to complete primary education. Lack of food prevents many children from enrolling in school, forces them to be frequently absent, and weakens the learning ability of those who do attend classes, thus affecting their academic performance and compromising their future. In short, lack of food helps perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

To help alleviate this problem, WFP launched a school feeding project in 2002, with an overall objective of supporting the Government’s goal of ensuring universal primary education by 2010. The government’s target date is five years earlier than the one stipulated at the 1990 World Conference on Education, to which Rwanda is a signatory.

The project targets 12 food-insecure, drought-prone districts in the eastern and southern provinces of Rwanda, which show low overall rates of primary enrollment or low attendance of girls.

Girls and boys attending the primary schools relieve their short-term hunger and boost their learning capacity by eating a daily meal of maize meal and beans. The meal, mixed with oil and salt, provides them with 532 kilocalories (i.e. calories), including 22 grams of protein and 16 grams of fat necessary for their growth. After five years of implementation, attendance rates in WFP-assisted schools increased from 73 percent to 95 percent, while the drop-out rate among girls decreased from 22.7 percent to 5 percent.

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

The Government of Rwanda's 2008-2012 Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy prioritizes education. It also includes plans to implement a Community Based National School Feeding Program, which will specifically target the Vision 2020 Umurenge sectors, the 30 poorest sectors in Rwanda as defined by the Government. This program aims to improve the quality of life of the population through local development, based on sustainable school feeding activities. WFP’s new five-year development project (2008-2012) will provide the Government with technical capacity-building assistance to develop the program. As the Government takes over with the gradual transfer of the program activities to government and community structures, WFP's support will be phased out.

What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?

The Government, with important support from the international donor community and the United Nations, has made an impressive recovery in the education sector. The Government of Rwanda Strategic Plan for the Education Sector, covering the period of 2008-2012, identifies school feeding as an efficient means to promote basic education for all. The Government plans to extend the school feeding program to all the primary schools in the country, building on the successful experience of the current Ministry of Education and WFP "Support to Basic Education" activity.

Rwanda remains highly dependent on external aid, with external grants comprising 42 percent of total public revenue. Aid per capita rose to US $53 in 2005 – up from US $40 in 2000. Rwanda qualified for the Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative in January 2006, which will contribute an annual relief flow equivalent to about half-a-percent of GDP. Significant grant financing will be required to support achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for some time to come. The Ministry of Education would highly appreciate any contribution from the international community to support the Community-Based National School Feeding Program, which will specifically target the 30 poorest sectors in Rwanda as defined by the Government.

What has been the effect of rising food prices on this funding effort?

We have not suffered any ration cuts to date in our school feeding programs, and food is regularly received in schools. However, due to the increase of food prices, food is not readily available in the region, and thus we need to purchase it from farther away. International purchases are very slow to arrive.

How can someone help the school feeding program?

Cash and in kind contributions to support the Rwanda School Feeding program are welcome. The transfer of responsibility of the current WFP school feeding program to government institutions at the national and district levels, and the sustainability of the program, depend on the government’s ability to commit of the human, material, and financial resources required. It will be especially challenging in the districts that are most deprived of social services and infrastructure, to provide skills and financial support to assist the government at national and district levels for the development of appropriate structures and capacities.

Financial support is also required to deliver balanced and complementary material and skills support to WFP food-assisted schools. This includes delivery of the school health package (HIV prevention, de-worming program, etc.) as well. Additional resources, particularly volunteer labor and gifts in kind, need to be mobilized at the community levels.

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

In the food-insecure parts of the country, general educational problems are exacerbated by severe food shortages at the household level, as well as hunger and poor health of primary students. Many children are frequently absent from school, drop out altogether to look for food or income, or are simply too hungry to come to school. Even if they come to school, hunger can diminish their ability to learn – affecting their own future and that of the country. These chronic problems are intensified during acute food shortages such as those caused by drought. Children living in these areas receive a food ration with fewer daily calories than required.

School feeding really helps alleviate this problem and helps (i) increase participation, capacity and motivation of communities and families to ensure that their children are educated; (ii) increase enrollment and attendance, reduce dropout rates, and improve learning capacity at primary schools, with special attention to girls, orphans, and other particularly vulnerable children.

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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