Giving Children the Best Start with Food for Education
“When they feed us at school, I feel more awake and I want to keep learning.”
– Elena, Food for Education student, PCI/Guatemala
Education is the cornerstone of gender and social equity, community development, and national progress. While education transforms lives and provides people with tools to lift themselves out of poverty, barriers like food insecurity can put school out of reach for some children.
More than 795 million people are food insecure around the globe, with many of them living in developing countries (USDA.GOV). Research and decades of experience by aid agencies like the United Nations World Food Program show that school feeding can ease hunger, dramatically increase attendance, improve school performance, and provide parents incentive to send their children to school.
PCI, in partnership with local governments and community members, delivers essential nutrition, education, health, and development services to children attending schools worldwide. With funding from the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, more than 200,000 children receive a healthy meal every school day through PCI’s school-based programs. This daily dose of nutrition ensures vulnerable students have the energy they need to focus in the classroom and learn, while also boosting school attendance rates (especially for girls). What’s more, the Food for Education program builds the capacity of communities to support and sustain school feeding initiatives with local produce and resources.
Making Schools a Better Place to Learn and Thrive
It’s not just about providing a meal. PCI mobilizes communities and uses schools as a platform to implement health, nutrition, and hygiene interventions to improve student health and reduce health-related absences. PCI’s key strategies include:
- Establishing and strengthening parent-teacher associations (PTAs) in all participating schools;
- Improving school infrastructure, with an emphasis on increasing access to clean water and sanitation facilities;
- Training community health volunteers, teachers, and parents on healthy eating and personal hygiene; and
- Supporting government-led vaccination campaigns, health days, and the distribution of deworming treatments.
To improve literacy outcomes, PCI is training teachers, ensuring students have access to textbooks and school supplies, and equipping classrooms with reading corners and other learning materials. For example, in Guatemala, all 231 schools participating in the Food for Education program are now equipped with reading corners where students can enjoy quiet reading time or check out books to take home to read with their parents. Many of these students also participate in afterschool literacy camps, which provide dedicated time to further work on literacy skills.
Enhancing Food Security and Nutrition Through Local Agriculture
Many schools participating in the Food for Education program develop and maintain school gardens, which provide nutritious fruits and vegetables that are incorporated into daily school meals. Parents, students, and teachers are all actively involved in the maintenance of the gardens.
In Tanzania, farmers and schools are partnering to increase and enhance local food production and nutrition for thousands of students. Through community and school garden production from October 2016-June 2017, and despite drought and pest challenges, 27 metric tons of food was produced in school gardens and an additional 12 metric tons was donated by parents and farmers’ groups. Over the next five years, the number of locally-produced meals will steadily increase as local capacity is strengthened and production is increased at both the school and community levels.
Angelina Julia, a 53-year old mother of seven children and 11 grandchildren, is a smallholder maize farmer in Tanzania. Angelina leads a group of 23 other local smallholder farmers. One of Angelina’s grandchildren is a student at Nyabehu Primary School, one of the schools supported by PCI’s USDA-funded Food for Education program. She actively ensures that her earnings and harvest from the farmers’ group directly contribute to her grandchild’s education.
Last year, Nyabehu Primary School received 150 kilograms of maize donated by Angelina’s farmers’ group. The school combines the maize with beans to prepare a traditional meal called “Makande.” The Makande meal is served once a week to all students and teachers, while the PCI/USDA-provided beans and rice meals are served four times a week.
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Reaching the Hardest-to-Reach Schools
In Nicaragua, PCI is reaching 77,500 schoolchildren in 1,115 pre- and primary schools located throughout Nicaragua’s most vulnerable regions, including the department of Jinotega and the Southern Caribbean Autonomous Region. The majority of schools in these areas are remote and some are only accessible by boat. Read the full story here.
Building Local Capacity to Sustain Programs Long-Term
PCI has been a proud McGovern-Dole Food for Education partner with USDA since the program began in 2001. To date, we have reached over 1 million students through Food for Education programs in Nicaragua, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Tanzania.
Through each of its programs, PCI develops the capacities of local communities, government offices, and non-governmental organizations to improve the educational environment for schoolchildren and ensure the sustainability of activities and outcomes. This process includes fostering leadership skills within PTAs and developing income-generating activities for vulnerable families to keep children in school.
In Bolivia, 49 municipal governments (covering 15% of the country) have graduated from PCI’s Food for Education program since 2005. The local governments were trained by PCI to procure food from local markets, ensure proper storage and handling, and conduct program monitoring at the school level. Today, they continue to provide daily meals to over 110,600 children with local resources.
This story was originally published on USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service [...]