Food for Education in Yemen: Fighting Hunger and Giving Girls a Chance to Learn
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Published on 23 June 2010

Yemeni school girls, 6th grade Copyright: WFP/Maria Fernanda Santamarina

In May 2010, WFP and the Ministry of Education distributed food to more than 80,200 school girls and their 562,000 family members in poor, rural areas across Yemen. The programme is making a real difference for vulnerable families by helping them meet their food needs and acting as an incentive to send girls to primary and secondary school.

Anwar school in Balad al Taam district, Rayma governorate, is located in an arid, mountainous region of Yemen. Most children walk from one to two hours each morning and afternoon. Children are taught Arabic, mathematics and science, history and even English.

The name of the area, Balad al Taam – meaning the land of food – is ironic as the area in fact is the most food insecure place in Yemen with extremely high levels of poverty and malnutrition. According to WFP’s recent Comprehensive Food Security Survey, more than half of the area’s population – 53 percent – is acutely hungry.
The area is home only to a primary school, a mosque and a dukkan - local shop. There is no health centre, pharmacy or market  nearby .

Classrooms are overcrowded and most children sit on the floor and some study outside for lack of rooms. The hot sun pounds down and hunger does not allow them to concentrate. “We come anyways because we like studying,” said one of the second grade boys sitting outside. “School is important!” 

Here children dream of being doctors, teachers, principals and even pilots.

Making a difference
Arwa is in her second year at Anwar school and, like many in Yemen where births are often not recorded, she does not know her exact age. For Arwa and her family of seven, money and food are very limited and they rely on bread and milk for all meals. “The most important part of my going to school is to receive the support provided by WFP; we need this food for our home,” says Arwa.

Saadam is in 6th grade and is 36 years old. Sitting in a class with 20 girls and 16 boys around the ages of 11 to 12 years old, Saadam stands out as she greets you with smiling eyes behind her niqab - a black fabric leaving only the eyes visible. Married at 15, Saadam was not allowed to continue schooling. Since WFP began providing food to Anwar school, Saadam has resumed her studies.  “Thanks to the food and support provided, my husband realized the importance of education for our future. I now have hopes of becoming a teacher or a doctor,” she says.

Overwhelming challenge

The operation is plagued by inconsistent and low funding, with a shortfall of 80% of its requirements for 2010. As a result, girls are receiving only one of the three planned annual distributions. Limited funding also meant that during May 2010 WFP had to reduce the number of beneficiaries as well as the ration size. The immediate impact has been an increased in dropout rates between May 2009 and April 2010. Arwa did not receive the much needed food for her family in May.

WFP Offices
About the author

Maria Fernanda Santamarina

Reports, Media and External Relations Officer

Maria Fernanda is a national of Argentina and USA. She joined WFP in 2007 working in Yemen.