In the fall of 1947 the Friendship Train rolled through the United States on a special mission: to collect food for people starving in Europe after World War II. School children in Italy would soon be among those benefiting from this American generosity.
How fitting this was, as school lunches were such a major part of Europe's recovery after the war. General Lucius Clay exclaimed that a school lunch program set up by Herbert Hoover "saved the health of German youth" and "did more to convince the German people of our desire to recreate their nation than any other action on our part."
We cannot forget this lesson of the WWII era as we struggle for peace in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and so many others. For school meals are one of the silent ingredients of progress in those nations. A simple school lunch not only fends off the enemy of hunger, it also improves a child's learning ability. School lunches give children and their families hope for a better life.
But if you look around the globe, you realize how many countries cannot provide school feeding for all their children. Many of these countries are suffering from conflict or natural disasters. The UN World Food Programme and dedicated charities try to provide school meals to as many children as possible. But these efforts often struggle to receive funding.
For instance, annual funding for the McGovern-Dole initiative that funds school lunch programs overseas is roughly $100 million. Just as a comparison, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace estimates the U.S. spent $52 billion dollars last year on nuclear weapons programs.
In Iraq the UN World Food Programme recently announced a school lunch program to help impoverished children in eight districts. The school meals are part of a larger food aid program costing $42 million. Will the international community provide the funding this program needs to get off the ground, not to mention expand to reach more children?
We've heard a lot about Somalia in the news recently, and school meals are part of the solution for this country in chaos. Jennifer Parmelee of the World Food Programme says that "In Somalia, lack of food and education aggravate the lawlessness; ironically, it is the Somali refugee camps — with their school feeding programs — that offer young Somalis the best chance to make a future for themselves and for their beleaguered country."
In Afghanistan how can we expect a stable and peaceful democracy to survive if children are malnourished and cannot attend school? Universal school feeding is essential for Afghanistan.
How can people help? You can write to Congress and President Obama urging them to make the fight against hunger, including a global school lunch program, a top priority. With U.S. leadership and an international coalition a global school lunch program can be a reality. It is within our grasp.