November 17, 2017

Food for Education: The Program Taking Hunger Out of the Classroom

By Megan Rabbitt

For Violet and her classmates in Tanzania, lunchtime means sitting under the shade of nearby trees, happily devouring a hearty bowl of rice and beans. In the rural Mara region where Violet lives with her family, school meals like these were once a rare occurrence. Recurrent droughts in the region made farming difficult and food scarce — and until Project Concern International (PCI) stepped in, hunger was commonplace in the classroom.

Through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, PCI is providing over 100,000 school meals a day to students across Tanzania — Violet included. With full stomachs, Violet and her classmates have the energy they need to focus on their studies and reach their full potential. And with school meals shown to increase attendance, particularly among girls, these programs are breaking down barriers to education and getting more kids into the classroom.

“It might look like a simple meal — a single bowl of beans and rice,” explained Violet’s mother. “But for my daughter Violet, it counts for much more. It’s a source of energy. A reason to stay in school. A chance for her to thrive.”

The impact of PCI’s Food for Education programs extends far beyond Africa, reaching hundreds of thousands of students in Guatemala, Bolivia, and Nicaragua. All told, this partnership has provided enough school meals to give one million children the chance to learn free from the grip of hunger.

Remarkably, Food for Education programs do more than simply provide the food needed to make meals. By planting school gardens, teaching better farming techniques, and recruiting parents to cook or donate food, these programs are designed to enable local communities to eventually take over the management of school meals. In Bolivia, forty-nine municipalities that previously received support are now independently supplying daily meals to over one hundred thousand children.

But in light of the Administration’s budget proposal for the next fiscal year — which zeroes out funding for this program completely — the school meals millions of children rely on every day are in jeopardy.

Since its creation less than twenty years ago by Republican Senator Bob Dole and Democratic Senator George McGovern, over 40 million children in 40 impoverished nations have received school meals. For many of these children, this meal is the only one they’ll eat all day. And with many of these countries — particularly East African nations like Ethiopia — struggling to stave off famine, eliminating these vital programs could worsen an already dire situation.

Fortunately, funding levels will ultimately be determined on Capitol Hill, where we’ve already seen both Chambers soundly reject the Administration’s proposal. While the House has proposed maintaining current funding levels, the Senate’s proposal boosts funding by $5 million or about 2 percent over last year.

This is welcome news for the millions of young children around the world, like Violet, who count on school meals every day. As former Senator Dole told The Washington Post earlier this year, “Saving this program means saving lives. It’s as simple as that.”

The above video was originally published by Project Concern International here.