Today World Food Programme (WFP), Rwanda celebrates the United Nations holiday to honour children and minors at Nyamiyaga Primary School in Gahini sector, Kayonza District.
At the forefront of eradicating hidden hunger that affects over 850million people across the globe, WFP has embarked on a school feeding programme for Rwanda’s children. Over 350,000 children in 300 primary schools in 11 districts across the country receive a free meal per day.
According to Abdoulaye Balde, Rwanda WFP Representative and Country Director, the purpose of feeding in schools is to provide children with their natural right to feed.
“Children walk for kilometers and the purpose is to enable the child to have enough energy to listen and learn from their teachers.
Feeding is to enable them benefit from the education that the government and community wants them to achieve and also provide children the opportunity to grow physically” Balde said.
A total sum of US$27 million is invested into the three year school feeding programme to eradicate hunger in schools. As a result families have been empowered economically to save and invest in more income generating activities and health care.
“In a way, it’s economical,” Balde said, “the government and community are only there to substitute the primary responsibility of the family to feed children.
By providing food you are financially supporting a family and what they are saving can be invested in something else like clothing and health care.”
To cement this support, an international WFP Children’s Art Competition is organized annually. This year’s competition involved both a drawing and an explanatory text, under the theme, “The Difference WFP School Meals Make To My Life.”
14 year-old Miriam Nyiransengiyumva, succeeded with her winning design, featuring one group of children playing and another studying after a good meal.
This was after a selection of 14 finalists from a short-list of 120 drawings by primary school children in 24 different countries. Nyiransengiyumva’s winnning piece was part of Rwanda’s top five drawings that were sent to judges in Rome Italy.
The young P.4 student from Nyamiyaga Primary School loves reading and wants to be a medical doctor when she grows up. “I will get all the knowledge in this world,” she said in a statement.
Nyiransengiyumva will be presented with her prize of US$100 and her school also gets USD$200 to purchase stationery and art materials. However, Nyiransengiyumva particularly had a desire to have goats and so WFP gave her two goats.
“These children are our future. It’s important to invest in them,” says Balde, “…For most of us 100USD is enough to go to a good restaurant but in the rural environment, it is more of an incentive for development.”
The Country Director further cited the need for more Rwandan children to take interest in art. “It’s not only about the ABC and math at school,” he said.
The designs from WFP’s global competition are currently being incorporated into wall calendars for 2010.
It is through emulating more formal and official art, sport and other competitions in the country, that an example is given of how education can be improved in the country especially by supporting children in under privileged areas or groups.
So far, more than 20 million children have benefited from school feeding programmes in 70 countries. In 2008, WFP fed a record 23 million children.
However, this is not only done by WFP. They work closely with other organizations like UNICEF, FAO, Ministry of Education World vision and Plan International to fortify the health of primary school children.
Living up to the expectations of the governments ‘One Cow per Household’, they instead give a cow to the beneficiary schools.
Gardens have been created in schools not only for children to learn how to produce food but so that, the children can practically participate in complementing their feeding, learn about basic agriculture, and the cows provide a base for their culture and also get fertilizers for the school gardens.
A system of rain water harvesting is in place to provide sufficient water for their gardens.
More equipment and tools are provided like computers, rakes, wheel barrows that can help them expand and develop agriculture.
“We are teaching them how to fish and not just handing them the fish to eat,” said Balde.
As Rwanda takes responsibility to care for its children, the big challenge of poverty still hinders the progress towards the promotion of Children Rights.
Over 100,000 vulnerable children constitute Rwanda’s population. These are mainly children orphaned by the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, who are living in child headed households and on the streets-- a direct result of poverty.
According to UNICEF Country Director, Dr. Joseph Foumbi, Rwanda is at the forefront of addressing these issues.
“The government has taken ownership and built strategies that affect children and these include their participation and the promotion of their rights,” said Foumbi.
Foumbi further cited the challenge of poverty and the slow pace in economic development as the main reason for Rwanda’s street children.
“We need more aggressive and solution finding efforts to curb this problem. So far, the ‘Centre for Detention’ in Murama has now been converted into a ‘Centre of Education’ so that street children who were once involved in crime can now feel at home,” he said.
He emphasized the fact that the eradication of child related problems depend on the economic growth of the country, “a more economic growth means more distribution of wealth and less poverty hence a reduction in the number of street children.”
For Rwanda, its people are their greatest asset. This makes dealing with its child problems an important part of the nations core values of achieving economic development.
Feeding has become a priority towards the eradication of malnutrition to increase enrollment and retention of vulnerable children in most food insecure areas.
As a result of good practices in over 45 years of school feeding programmes, the WFP has recorded a 98 percent improvement in enrollment and retention of vulnerable children in schools worldwide.
Balde said that WFP is in turn working closely with MINEDUC to set a National Policy for School Feeding.
He underscored the need for local community participation.
“Under the Protracted Relief and Recovery Operation (PRRO) programme, WFP has incorporated and helped refugees from Congo in three camps,” he said.
A total of 20,000 mothers and children who need health care and support in various hospitals are provided with ARV’s, local communities are also sensitized and trained in terracing and land reclamation programmes and in partnership with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Private Sector Federation (PSF) reproductive health among women has been improved as they advocate and empower the women of Rwanda.