The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is doing its part to support the peace process in Mindanao, the southern Muslim-populated region of the Philippines. In Mindanao many people have been displaced by the conflict between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Malnutrition rates are also high in the area, which makes school feeding for children absolutely critical. We will learn more about the UN’s Food for Education initiative in the following interview with Stephen Anderson of the World Food Programme in the Philippines.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP School feeding programs within the country?
WFP targets school feeding assistance to 120,000 vulnerable schoolchildren living in areas in the southern Philippines island of Mindanao, where conflict between the Government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has displaced large numbers of people and also resulted in high rates of malnutrition. About 110,000 children also receive a monthly 12.5 kilo (27.5 lbs) take-home ration of rice for the full academic year (and when one includes the schoolchildren’s family members, this rice supports a total of 660,000 people). WFP support acts as a supplement to a family’s food supply and as an incentive to keep their children in school.
Consistent with WFP’s “Fill the Cup” campaign (and financed directly through local and/or private sector support), WFP is also providing a daily hot meal, consisting of nutritious corn-soya blend, which is combined with sugar and oil, and supplemented by vegetables and other ingredients provided by the community, to an additional 10,000 school children in selected schools, again focusing on the most nutritionally deprived areas. Children receive de-worming twice a year and WFP encourages investments by government, bilateral, and multilateral donors to upgrade water and sanitation systems and other school infrastructure.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance and nutrition.
Primarily as a result of conflict and poverty, only one in three children in Mindanao actually complete primary school, which is far below the 67 percent average for the rest of the country: some 40 percent of parents who do not send their children to school cite lack of food as a contributing factor.
During the past two years, food support has had a remarkable effect. At assisted schools, WFP food support has increased enrollment by 40 percent, stabilized attendance and, most importantly, virtually eliminated school drop-outs. When children drop out of school, more often than not for economic reasons to help their family, they rarely re-enroll. WFP is therefore proud of its contribution in helping to keep these children in school.
We also have collected evidence that our school feeding program is proving to be an effective catalyst for stimulating community involvement in the school. Parents serve in parent-teacher committees organized to cook the daily hot meals on a rotating basis, which also provides an impetus for parents to get involved with other aspects of their children’s educational experience.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
WFP’s Food-for-Education activities in Mindanao support and complement the Philippines Government’s Food-for-Schools Program (FSP), which is part of the national Accelerated Hunger-Mitigation Program (AHMP), a Presidential initiative aimed at cutting hunger in half by the year 2015. Funded through the national budget, the FSP involves the provision of 1 kg of rice daily for 120 days to children in grades 1-3, preschools, and day care centers, and is complemented by Tindahan Natin (a targeted food price subsidy program) to ensure the availability of cheaper rice and instant noodles for poor households. The FSP provides an excellent opportunity to sustain food-supported, school-based safety nets for children, and WFP will continue to explore a more direct partnership with the Government within this program as the basis for future operations in Mindanao as well as exploring ways of providing technical support to the national program.
The Government (through the Department of Social Welfare and Development, or DSWD) is also planning to expand a conditional cash transfer program which will provide health and educational cash grants to poor families as an incentive to ensure that children attend school, mothers and children avail themselves of health services, and parents attend family planning and parent effectiveness training. WFP and DSWD have begun to explore the possibility of partnering in the future to implement this program, which, modeled on a successful example from Brazil, will be piloted in several areas of the Philippines over the next few years, including in Mindanao.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?
Sources of funding WFP include government, donors, the private sector, and individuals. Given the lead time it takes to buy and deliver food, early resource commitments towards the Food-for-Education program will enable WFP to help government mitigate the impact of high prices among poor and conflict-affected people in Mindanao, while also preserving the gains made over the past year.
As part of local fundraising efforts with the private sector, WFP is currently seeking PhP 7.6 million pesos (about US $175,000) within the Philippines, for the Philippines, to ensure that hot, nutritious school meals are provided to at least 10,000 Mindanao children each day.
What has been the effect of high food prices on this funding effort?
High food prices have clearly intensified hunger in the Philippines. In response to high prices, government has expanded subsidized sales of rice to the poor and is enhancing existing safety nets in order to mitigate the impact of high prices. WFP is seeking full funding for the life-saving projects programmed for 2008 and for targeted food safety nets and mother-child health programs in extreme situations. WFP will seek to scale up school feeding and use it as a platform for urgent, nutritional interventions.
The costs of WFP’s operations have increased dramatically, by 66 percent, primarily because rice is a key element of the food commodity basket WFP provides and its purchase price increased dramatically in 2008.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
There are several good ways to help the school feeding program in the Philippines:
1) I would first say that someone should learn about the program and learn to support and advocate for it. It is important to know that through simple programs, like WFP’s school feeding activities in Mindanao, we can reduce hunger, while also bringing and keeping children in school. You can write to us at [email protected] to find out more information.
2) Visit the WFP website to donate and help ensure meals for the 59 million school children around the world who go to school hungry. Supporting WFP’s Fill the Cup campaign provides meals to school children, boosting their opportunities for better health, an education, and a brighter future. Your help will go a long way to give the children we assist in Mindanao the best possible chance for a healthy and productive future.
Anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?
School feeding is an investment in the future of the country. If school feeding is targeted well to the poorest and most vulnerable areas of a country and also properly integrated within a government-led education development program (to improve school infrastructure, curriculum development, teacher training, etc), it can make a tremendous difference and help ensure poor children get a good education, which is their best fighting chance to ensure a better life for the next generation.