Sri Lanka cricket legend Muttiah Muralitharan, a humanitarian partner with WFP, said today that meals provided to school children in the country's former war zones are one of the best ways to help them catch up on their education.
While making the rounds of WFP's projects in the northern city of Jaffna, "Murali," as he is affectionately known in Sri Lanka and throughout the cricket world, said the plight of school- aged children in areas damaged by war urgently requires the attention and support of the donor community.
"The malnutrition these children are suffering is plain to see," said Muralitharan. "The war robbed them of both their physical development and their education. But the meals they get in school are a godsend. They get the good food they need to fill their stomach and then they can concentrate on their lessons."
Every school day, WFP provides more than 100,000 children in the northern and eastern parts of Sri Lanka with a mid-morning meal of rice, accompanied by lentil porridge or highly nutritious corn-soya blend, and supplemented by vegetables. The food motivates them to attend school and enhances their ability to concentrate and learn.
"The best thing we can give children is education. This will equip them when they grow up to become full citizens of their country," added Muralitharan, who today donated 25 sets of cricket-playing equipment to schools in the north with WFP feeding programmes. "In today's world, people who can't read and write are a burden to their society."
A WFP survey released in October 2003 found that between 20 and 25 percent of school-aged children in the north and east suffer from acute malnutrition and one in three are "wasted," or too thin for their height. The survey showed that, overall, malnutrition levels in these regions - where civil war raged for nearly 20 years are at least twice as high as the national average.
As part of his tour of WFP's field projects in the north this week, Muralitharan is also visiting a nutrition education session for mothers and their infant children near Jaffna city, and a food-for-work project site.
To promote food aid and education, Muralitharan headed the Sri Lanka leg of an international fund-raising event, "Walk the World," co-sponsored by TNT/TPG, the global Dutch-based Express, Mail and Logistics company, and WFP. The event took place on 20 June.
The world record-breaking cricket bowler led up the five-kilometer walk that ultimately raised nearly US$5,000 for the WFP school feeding program in Sri Lanka.
Muralitharan was named in October as one of Time Magazine's "Asia's Heroes," a gallery of 20 Asians who have made a remarkable achievement before the age of 40. Muralitharan, 32, was selected for the magazine's third annual special on distinguished Asians because of his "total mastery of the art [of cricket]." Time Magazine noted that he "has changed the face of the game [of cricket] and, no less significant, given hope to a nation torn by 21 years of bloody civil war."
A member of the country's Tamil minority, Muralitharan has been described as a symbol for Sri Lanka's potential to overcome its ethnic divide, because of his enormous popularity with the Sinhala majority. Time Magazine notes that "Murali is mobbed wherever he travels in Sri Lanka."
Earlier this year, Muralitharan broke the world record for taking the most number of test wickets. He also holds the world record for the most number of five-wicket hauls in a test innings.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungry children.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign For just 19 US cents a day, you can help WFP give children in poor countries a healthy meal at school -- a gift of hope for a brighter future.
Visit our website: www.wfp.org
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