What do we envision for Haiti within five to ten years? We envision every Haitian child attending school and receiving a daily meal there. We want a national school feeding program in Haiti.
When children are provided meals in school, it boosts attendance rates, improves nutrition levels, and improves classroom performance. The meal takes a bite out of two glaring societal problems: hunger and lack of education.
The Haitian government and aid agencies are hard at work on this school feeding challenge. Right now, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is feeding 1.1 million Haitian children with school meals. Another 300,000 children are receiving meals from the Haitian government, USAID, and other aid agencies. However, there are hundreds of thousands of students who are not receiving regular school meals, so there is a significant gap in coverage.
A teacher at the Ecole Rosalie Javouhey in Port-au-Prince passes out the mid-day meal to her students. (WFP/David Orr)
Unfortunately, that is not all. There are a number of Haitian children who are not attending any school, due to the cost of education. The promise of meals, as well as take-home rations, could help attract these kids to class. This would provide relief for many families in impoverished Haiti.
The goal is to build a national school feeding program capable of reaching every child. In addition, it should be a program that is self-sustainable and run by the Haitian government. The presence of WFP and other aid agencies should fade away as the program gets stronger. WFP held a school feeding handover ceremony last year for Cape Verde. One day it wants a similar ceremony for Haiti.
Local farmers need to be able to produce most if not all of the food supply for the school feeding. Recently, WFP has been working with Haitian dairy farmers as part of a project to supply milk to schools. Brazil provided a donation that allowed WFP to purchase the milk from the farmers. This type of initiative needs to be expanded as well. Funding is secured for this project through June.
Stephanie Tremblay of WFP reports that Haiti has received a grant from the U.S. McGovern-Dole program, which provides funding for school meal programs in developing countries. This grant will help support school feeding through 2012. Beyond that, the future of McGovern-Dole is up in the air as the recent House budget dramatically slashed school feeding.
WFP is short $68 million for its Haiti relief mission for 2011, so more funding needs to be secured in addition to the McGovern-Dole grant. School feeding is WFP’s largest activity in Haiti. The agency also supports Food for Work projects to support agricultural development. In addition, WFP provides logistics support for the aid community, and has to pre-position food during the rainy season for communities that become isolated by washed-out roads.
There is a long way to go to achieve national school feeding in Haiti. There are significant challenges that lie ahead this year when you take into account the rise in food prices globally. Haitian families need the safety net of school feeding during this crisis. They are being forced to spend 60-80 percent of their income on food. So you can imagine what a free meal at school can mean to the family. However, WFP and other agencies will have a tougher time providing assistance should prices remain high.
But the big question is, what can you do? Within minutes you can actually take action to support this program. Just log on to Freerice.com and start playing this online game. For each correct answer, a donation of rice is made to the World Food Programme. The donation is paid for by advertisers on the site. Donations are currently going to the WFP Haiti mission and school feeding.
Are you shopping for the perfect gift for someone? You can do this and help Haiti at the same time by purchasing a FEED Haiti bag. Each purchase funds 50 school meals. Lauren Bush, co-founder of the FEED Project, says that sales have so far produced $53,000 for Haiti.
You can also advocate for Haiti, as well as other countries, by writing to your representative in Congress.
The drive toward universal school feeding has to be sustained. There is hope that it will be. In five to ten years we might look back at 2011 as a turning point for Haiti and its children.