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CRS has been building permanent kitchens and food storage rooms to enable schools in West Darfur.

Interview: Hani El-Mahdi, Catholic Relief Services, Sudan

If there is to be any hope of a peaceful future in the war-torn region of Sudan, food and education must be provided for all children. Catholic Relief Services (CRS) is helping the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) provide school meals in Darfur, but there is far more to this work than delivering the food.

Kitchens, food storage rooms, and water tanks are some of the facilities needed to prepare these school meals. This is a significant challenge with schools located in refugee camps or in remote, rural areas. Hani El-Mahdi, head of programming in Northern Sudan, discusses the role of Catholic Relief Services in supporting school feeding in Darfur.

What type of construction did the schools need so they could take part in the WFP school feeding program?

Catholic Relief Services has been building permanent kitchens and food storage rooms to enable schools in West Darfur to participate in the WFP school feeding program. This activity is necessary to enable the schools to safely store food and cooking equipment, as many of the schools are in camps for internally displaced people (IDP) and in remote rural areas up the northern corridor of West Darfur, which runs north of El Geneina along the Sudan-Chad border for about 85 miles.

Catholic Relief Services is also installing water tanks in targeted schools so school cooks have easy access to water for cooking and cleaning. Hand-washing facilities are also being constructed.

In addition, Catholic Relief Services collaborated with the State Department of Forestry and Ministry of Education to train the school cooks in the construction and maintenance of fuel-efficient stoves made from mud and cow dung. These stoves use significantly less firewood and cook food much faster compared to conventional mud-and-brick stoves.

This activity promotes environment-friendly activities both in the schools and in the community, as the cooks have built small stoves for their homes and are promoting use of these stoves among their neighbors.

How many schools in Darfur were assisted by CRS in this project?

Twenty-two schools in West Darfur were assisted by the project in 2008. This has enabled more than 15,000 students to have a midday meal in their schools.

Since 2004, El Geneina has experienced a huge of influx of internally displaced people and a corresponding increase in demand for schools. As a result, Catholic Relief Services has focused our interventions in schools located within and near camps for displaced people in El Geneina, having built kitchens and food storage rooms in six IDP schools and in eleven schools that serve both displaced and host community children. Catholic Relief Services also constructed facilities for five schools in the northernmost West Darfur locality of Kulbus.

Catholic Relief Services is the only humanitarian agency providing educational support in the hard-to-reach and underserved northern corridor of West Darfur. In many of these schools the students come from IDP, nomadic and host communities.

In addition to assistance provided to the five schools in Kulbus, by March 2009 Catholic Relief Services will finish the construction of an additional 10 kitchens and food storage rooms in schools in towns and villages in the northern corridor.

Does Catholic Relief Services have plans to help more schools in Darfur participate in WFP school feeding programs?

According to the 2008 National Government of Sudan Baseline Survey on Basic Education in Northern Sudan, only 37.3 percent of the schools in West Darfur are served by school feeding programs. The report indicated that a major factor leading to school dropout is the lack of feeding programs. WFP annual reports also note the significant impact of school feeding on attendance.

As a result, Catholic Relief Services plans to assist an additional 35 schools in the northern corridor of West Darfur. Catholic Relief Services will mobilize parent-teacher associations (PTAs) and canteen management committees in these schools and request parental assistance in constructing storage and kitchen facilities, providing firewood, ensuring food preparation takes place, and transporting food to inaccessible schools.

In the coming school year, Catholic Relief Services also plans to continue to focus attention on the incoming first-grade students who have only known conflict since they were born. Through the Food for Education program, these children are already assured one full meal each day.

What would be the source of funding for additional school construction projects in Darfur?

Catholic Relief Services is currently exploring other sources of funding for additional school construction projects. The initial project was supported by the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, a private donor.

How can someone get involved and help Catholic Relief Services and school feeding in Darfur?

Catholic Relief Services offers our Operation Rice Bowl and Food Fast programs to get people involved through prayer, learning, and action with programs that focus on hunger in 100 countries. People can also donate to Catholic Relief Services to support our lifesaving programs in Sudan or learn more about our work in Darfur.

Is there anything else you would like to add about Catholic Relief Services and its work in support of WFP school feeding?

The main goals of Catholic Relief Services’ Food For Education program in West Darfur are to encourage hungry children to attend and remain in school and to enable students to concentrate on their studies to broaden their options. The provision of food in the schools also lessens the burden for families facing food insecurity who might otherwise send their children to work.

Catholic Relief Services hopes to continue to support the most underserved communities in the northern corridor of West Darfur and will begin coordinating the WFP Food For Education program in these areas in July 2009. The Ministry of Education does not have the capacity or financial resources to support schools, particularly in IDP camps and remote rural areas, and has acknowledged the important role of Catholic Relief Services in supporting basic education in West Darfur.

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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