For Ethiopian Herders, School Meals are Driving Change
Published on 23 June 2014

Little ones first - lining up for food at Dandi Gudina.

Copyright: WFP/Evin Joyce

Among the Kereyu community in Ethiopia’s southern Oromia province, WFP’s school feeding programme is tipping the scales as parents weigh whether to take their children on seasonal migrations or leave them in school.

By Evin Joyce 

DANDI GUDINA VILLAGE, Ethiopia – Fourteen-year-old Hawi knows the benefits of school meals. She’s the only one of her family of seven attending school. Next year, she will finish Dandi Gudina primary school in eastern Oromia province, about 200 kilometres south of the capital, Addis Ababa. 

“I attend school all year round and look after my uncle’s cows during the summer,” says Hawi, a member of Ethiopia’s pastoralist Kereyu community, who was sent to live with her uncle when she was small.

Traditionally, attendance at Dandi Gudina primary shrinks between January and May.  Like other pastoralist groups who form a major strand of the country’s rich cultural fabric, the Kereyu migrate with the changing seasons in search of water for their livestock. 

The tipping point

But these days, students like Hawi are staying put. A major reason: WFP school meals that began at Dandi Gudina in 2005.  

Dandi Gudina students eating WFP school meals “If there was no school feeding here, most of the children would migrate with their parents,” says teacher Seifu Dirisal. “Because of the feeding, parents now normally just take the babies and small children with them. The rest stay here and are looked after by bigger children.”

While most parents here value educating their children, Dirisal says, economics drive their decisions about whether to bring the youngsters along to help out during the migrations – or to leave them home to study.  In the end, he says, WFP’s school meals are the tipping point. 

Making a difference

Dandi Gudina is one of roughly 1,200 schools across Ethiopia serving up hearty WFP-provided meals to roughly 650,000 children in 2014. Introduced in 1994, school feeding has contributed significantly to increasing school attendance and reducing dropout rates.  Dandi Gudina is no exception. 

“Regular attendance,” says Dirisal, summing up the benefits, “and because of that, consistently good grades.”

Education is also nurturing new ambitions.  Hawi should know; she wants to become a teacher.