Thursday , February 22 2024
Most of the families targeted by the School Feeding Program belong to a group of extremely food-insecure people.

Interview: Liliane Bigayimpunzi, UN World Food Programme Director of School Feeding in Burundi

The African nation of Burundi faces many challenges to overcome hunger and poverty. A civil war devastated the country and displaced many of its citizens. Recovering from that tragedy alone is daunting when you consider the physical and emotional damage. When you add the effect of climate change, crop diseases and high food prices the task becomes even more difficult.

School feeding plays its role in helping the people of Burundi rebuild, which includes assisting the growing number of those returning to the country after fleeing the fighting. We will look at the status of this program in this interview with Liliane Bigayimpunzi, United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), Director of School Feeding in Burundi.

How many children are benefiting from the WFP School feeding programs within the country?

WFP reached a total of 265,350 pupils in 250 schools and seven provinces in the 2007/2008 school year.

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

WFP assisted School Feeding Program targets children living in the most food insecure provinces of Burundi. The program targets schools with poor education in terms of enrollment rate, disparity between boys and girls, and areas that show a high concentration in Returnees.

Since the launch of the School Feeding Program in 2003, enrollment rates are on the increase in the seven provinces where the program has been implemented. In Karusi and Cankuzo provinces, the enrollment rate increased to 58.1 percent in 2007/2008 from 42.5 percent in 2003/2004. The School Feeding Program has also succeeded in raising awareness among parents regarding the importance of education, particularly for the girls. This is especially true of food insecure households that have a hard time providing a daily meal to their children.

The Take Home Ration serves as an incentive to encourage parents to continue sending their girls to school after the age of 12. This is necessary due to high drop-out rates among girls due to early marriages.

Reducing dropout rates in assisted schools is another success of the School Feeding Program. In the Karusi Province, dropout rates decreased from 17.8 percent in 2004/2005 to 3.9 percent in 2006-2007.

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

Currently, WFP Burundi is in the final year of implementing a Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation. A successor program for the period 2009-2010 has been prepared and will be presented to WFP’s Executive Board in the next few months. Due to resource limitations, WFP had to prioritize its assistance for the School Feeding Program. The selected seven provinces manifested food insecurity and the highest numbers of Returnees. Resources permitting, WFP will be able to expand the School Feeding Program assistance to other needy provinces/communities.

WFP Burundi implements the school feeding program in seven out of 17 provinces. School feeding selection is based on two main criteria: food insecurity and absenteeism in school. WFP School Feeding reaches only one-sixth of the total number of school children.

WFP identifies its zones of intervention based on the results of regular food security analysis (Food Security Monitoring System). These analyses are also used to determine how many children will benefit from WFP’s School Feeding program.

Plans are ongoing to reinforce activities in areas where WFP is already present, but where infrastructure is currently very poor (lack of running water and proper equipment to cook school meals, etc). WFP also plans to extend activities to areas where needs are expected to increase due to rising food prices. To this end, countrywide assessments are ongoing and results will be available in September 2008.

In addition to assessments in urban areas, the WFP Country Office has just finalized an intervention strategy, which will include emergency school feeding to reach 30,000 children in primary urban schools.

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

WFP advocacy efforts target traditional multilateral and bilateral donors of WFP. Donations can be made in cash or in kind.

What has been the effect of rising food prices in these funding efforts?

A contribution of three million dollars (US) used to buy 3,288 tons of rice. The same donation today will buy only 3,098 tons of rice. The result is a shortfall of 190 tons of rice, which is equivalent to 43,000 school meals for an entire month or 950,000 take home rations. While donors are looking for concrete examples of how the soaring food prices affect beneficiaries, it is premature to provide such examples.

That said, current practice suggests emerging trends. During a visit to a primary school in Ngozi (not assisted by WFP) teachers expressed their concern over the number of children coming to school on empty stomachs, a trend which has increased in recent months. Since the majority of the children do not receive a morning meal at home and the school cannot provide any sort of meal during the day, the only meal they get is served at home in the evening.

According to the schoolteachers, when prices skyrocketed at the beginning of the year, the number of parents taking their children out of school increased. The implicit message from parents to children was “feed yourself or nobody else will”. Some parents were desperate enough to abandon their homes and children to search for food in the capital.

This trend could also materialize in WFP assisted schools as a consequence of reduced rations during periods of pipeline breaks (shortages of commodities).

How can someone help the school feeding program?

Not everyone has the opportunity to visit one of the WFP School Feeding Programs and see with their own eyes how easy it is to contribute to the future of a poor child. With USD 50 cents per day anyone can contribute to the education and bright future of a Burundian child. You can make a donation by visiting our WFP’s website.

Contributions can be in kind and/or in cash. The donor can contribute to food commodities or to non-food items such as kettles and other kitchen supplies.

School feeding is not just about food but also focuses on hygiene, sanitation, and agricultural activities such as school gardens. School feeding takes an integrated approach that is supported by the technical expertise and materials of several partners.

Is there anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?

Burundi is currently facing major challenges in terms of return trends from Tanzania (Burundian refugees, who up to now have lived in camps in Tanzania, are obliged to return to Burundi as Tanzanian authorities are closing the camps, one by one). School feeding plays a critical role not only by contributing to education of returning children but also to their reintegration in Burundi. For example, children who have lived all their lives in Tanzania speak neither French nor Kirundi (the local language).

To address this, WFP is launching a series of catch up language trainings for these children upon their return to Burundi. Moreover, the program plays an important role in creating peaceful conditions between returnees and resident populations as children of both groups will go to the same schools, share books and meals, etc. WFP is specifically targeting school feeding activities in food insecure areas where return rates are high.

Most of the families targeted by the School Feeding Program belong to a group of extremely food-insecure people who consume less than 1400 calories a day. These individuals spend around 60% of their income on food. In general, they consume a maximum of one meal per day. School feeding plays an important role in relieving parents from the burden of having to provide their children’s one daily meal.

School feeding is a powerful tool for communicating important messages to children and parents. For example, WFP, together with partner agencies, supports HIV/AIDS clubs where school children learn about HIV/AIDS, hygiene, and sanitation.

WFP encourages the participation of surrounding communities by involving parents in the preparation, cooking, and distribution of meals to 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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