Gul Seema, 13, wants to be a doctor when she grows up. Now that she is able to come to school, her natural intelligence is starting to shine through and a medical career seems entirely possible. She’s a classic example of how a school meals programme can unlock possibilities for poor children.
KABUL – Gul’s dream of becoming a doctor seemed just that until a few years ago – a dream. Strapped for cash, her parents wanted her to stay at home and help with the family business of making rugs and carpets. It seemed like the only way to make ends meet.
But Gul’s mother and father started to see things differently when a school meals programme started at their daughter’s school. As well as the nutritious biscuits she receives at school, Gul also receives take-home rations of cooking oil – a precious commodity in her community. “Before this my family wanted me to stay at home and to weave rugs as our economic situation was really bad,” she says. “But now that I am receiving oil it has persuaded my family to let me come to school.”
Like thousands of other children from poor Afghan families, a chance to come to school means a chance to get an education, which in turn raises their hopes of pulling themselves and their families out of poverty. For Gul, it seems to be paying off. She’s top of her class and is more determined than ever to be a doctor when she grows up.
“In this region most families didn’t want their girls to go to school but since the food distribution started, the number of girls and boys has equaled out a bit,” says Mohamad Sarwar, one of Gul’s teachers at the school in Qarabagh, about 50 km north of Kabul.
As well as getting more girls into school, the food programme also ensures that children get the nutrition they need to grow up strong, physically and mentally. Most children don’t get much of a breakfast before coming to school, Sarwar says, so the high-energy biscuits they receive make a big difference to their nutritional intake.
“These biscuits, which are fortified with vitamins and micronutrients, give them energy. Meanwhile, the oil is helping their family.”
In the past, Gul’s school got about 35 new students each year. Since the introduction of the school meals programme that number has gone up to 85 or 90.