It’s hard to imagine not sending your own child to school. It’s even harder to imagine your child waking up and going to bed hungry every day. These conditions are a day-to-day reality for most children living in Bolivia. Imagine the challenge of trying to learn on an empty stomach, or trying to teach hungry children. Kids lucky enough to attend school may walk even an hour to and from school each day. When they arrive at one of the schools where PCI works to combat hunger and malnutrition, their parents know their child will be receiving a complete meal, possibly the only one they will eat all day. PCI has had the benefit of working with Bolivia since 1980, and has a long history of working to improve access to and quality of education for children and youth.
A study by UN Development Programme and UNICEF reported that over 230 babies in Bolivia died per day through lack of proper care. A significant amount of the population has no access to healthcare and lives below poverty level, working as farmers, miners, and traders. The importance of education not only on school topics, but also education of proper nutrition, sanitation habits, sustainable living and cleanliness, is imperative for the survival and longevity of Bolivia’s communities and their children. In addition to vocational training, PCI has been implementing school-based feeding programs, early childhood education and life skills education.
Now imagine seeing your child, as young as 10 years of age, being involved in unjust child labor. This is a reality in the poorest of countries such as Bolivia. However, it has been incredibly fulfilling working with Bolivians to create social safety net systems to keep children enrolled in school and decrease child labor, as well as strengthen parent-teacher associations and provide training for teachers.
PCI is addressing large-scale issues such as above, including world hunger and malnutrition, by working with communities to distribute food through our school feeding and agricultural assistance programs. Through PCI’s school-based feeding program, over 160,000 children received a hot, nutritious meal every day of the school year in nearly 2,200 schools. For example, each morning young students eagerly await the beginning of the school day in Lagunillas, a rural community in the hills of Bolivia. They know that coming to school today means that they will also enjoy peas, carrot & potato soup, and a buñuelo, a Bolivian type of doughnut.
“When they feed us at school I feel more awake and I want to keep learning,” one student named Elena told a program volunteer. This program alleviates students’ hunger, thereby allowing them to concentrate on learning during class, and provides a nutritious meal. The program reduces malnutrition rates, improves the overall health status of rural children, and increases school enrollment and attendance rates.
The amount of meals served each month increased from a little over 900,000 to 1.3 million meals last year. To ensure these schools have the ability to continue to provide meals for students, PCI helped the school create a chicken coop by donating 50 mature hens. The school has been able to use the eggs to supplement its school breakfasts by providing each student with one egg twice a week. This is a treat for students like Elena, and a much-needed source of protein. The students consume half of the eggs, and the other half is sold to generate income for the purchase of animal feed and for other related expenses. In addition to having a steady source of good nutrition, the students eagerly learn about the hens and how to raise and feed them, as they help collect eggs.
“I saw healthy, happy, smiling faces eager to learn. As a former teacher myself, it was very fulfilling!” says Raffaella Belanich, a long-time PCI supporter who traveled to Bolivia to see our work firsthand.
PCI strives to reach it major objectives: access, admission and continuation in schools, educational progress, progress in child-maternal health and nutrition, donor support, and community involvement. By tackling these issues in Bolivia, PCI hopes to show other countries in similar situations that development capacity in health and education, proving that community involvement and sustainability is possible. By accomplishing these goals, PCI is ensuring that children around the world, like Elena, grow into strong, intelligent, and healthy members of their communities, as well as spread their knowledge and experience to future generations.
Number of meals provided to school children by PCI in Bolivia, Guatemala and Nicaragua from 2001 to 2011