In the Republic of Congo the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) provides aid for many who have suffered through the country’s internal conflicts. According to WFP, “The repeated armed conflicts that the Republic of Congo experienced during the last decade have worsened the country’s precarious food crop production.” Food aid is needed to reinforce the peace and the reconstruction process in the Republic of Congo. Providing school meals to children is part of the World Food Programme’s ongoing work in the country. In this interview with Wilfred Banmbuh, WFP country director for the Republic of Congo, we will look at how important school feeding is for ending child hunger and promoting education.
How many children are benefiting from the WFP School feeding programs within the country?
The government of the Republic of Congo and NGOs working in the education sector estimate 300,000 children from poor and food-insecure homes will be assisted by the WFP school feeding program. However, the program now provides assistance to only 63,000 beneficiaries due to insufficient resources.
Discuss what effect the meals have on the children in terms of school attendance, performance, and nutrition.
Schools are few and far between in rural areas of the Republic of Congo. Children, many as young as six, are obliged to walk long distances to the nearest school. To arrive in time for classes, they get out of bed very early and make the journey on empty stomachs. They arrive hungry and fall asleep within a few minutes of the first lesson. Consequently, attention and attendance are poor. Performance is low and dropout rates are high. A 2007 World Bank study commissioned by the Ministry of Primary Education & Literacy found that 34% of primary school children from poor homes do not complete primary school.
WFP school feeding is implemented in these rural areas. School meals not only give children strength after a long and arduous walk but also improve attendance, attention, concentration, and in turn, performance. School feeding also has a positive impact on children’s nutritional status.
The WFP school feeding program is jointly implemented with other UN agencies. Children not only benefit from WFP fortified cereals and other nutritious food commodities, but also from the de-worming operation provided by UNICEF. This joint programming has an enormously effective impact on children’s nutritional status.
What plans are there for making school meals available for all children?
WFP is discussing with the government the absolute necessity for them to partner not only in the management of the school feeding program but also in financing food procurement for the program. WFP believes its traditional donors will be more willing to fund the school feeding program if the national government is making contributions. The government made an important indication concerning its involvement early this year, and discussions are continuing. WFP plans to take action on government requests to expand the program and provide school meals to many more needy children as soon as sufficient funding is found.
What would be the sources of funding for any expansion of the school feeding program?
What has been the effect of rising food prices in this funding effort?
The school feeding program is helping the Republic of Congo achieve Millennium Development Goals 1 (End Poverty and Hunger) and 2 (Universal Education). Given the program’s success, the government has requested that the program be expanded to cover about 300,000 needy children. Due to rising prices and the demand on WFP resources from development and emergencies, any expansion will have to be funded by the national government and its bilateral partners.
How can someone help the school feeding program?
WFP’s goal is for every child in Congo to attend school. Hunger should not be the reason a child is denied an education. Contributions to the school feeding program make it possible for WFP to procure and distribute food commodities to needy schools. Individuals can donate online.
Anything else you’d like to add about why you think school feeding is important for people to support?
According to a 2007 Ministry of Primary Education study, access to primary school in 1993 was at 100% and the completion rate was 70%. In 2000, after the civil wars, enrolment dropped to 76% and the completion rate to 49%.
Children from poor homes have been hit the hardest. Only 34% of these children manage to complete primary school. Today, enrolment in schools where WFP is implementing the school feeding program is over 95% and the drop-out rate is negligible. This shows how the school feeding program is making a significant difference in the lives of children from poor families.
Unfortunately, insufficient resources prevent school feeding programs from providing for every child in need. In a time when a primary education is the minimum requirement for employment and a successful career in agriculture, a program that gives children incentive to attend and remain in school is critically important. Without it, many children from poor families do not attend school, perform badly in class because they cannot concentrate, or drop out because they are hungry. Supporting school feeding ensures a brighter and better future for children.