Vera (centre) with a group of her classmates on the steps of the elementary school in Praia where the WFP school meals programme got her education on its way. Copyright: WFP/Mercedes Sayagues
In 1990, seven-year-old Vera Tavares starred in a WFP documentary about the nutritious lunches that were keeping her in school. Today, she’s a college educated career woman able to support her mother and put her brother through university. Vera tells us how those simple school meals made it all possible. Watch video
A long time has passed since you were a little girl eating school meals. Apart from growing up, what else has changed for you since then?
My life has changed a lot, mainly because I was able to keep studying and get my degree in business and economics at university. Now I work as an accountant at the Ministry of Education.
What do you remember about going to school when you were younger? Do you have any recollections of eating school lunches?
I remember them well. Still today, whenever I see kids eating their lunches at school, it reminds me of when I was little and did the same. I was always hungry when I came to school, but then I would eat my afternoon meal and it would give me the strength to keep on going.
After nearly 30 years, WFP’s school feeding programme in Cape Verde has helped boost enrollment rates to among the highest in Africa. On September 7, WFP handed the programme over to the Cape Verde government during a ceremony in Rome celebrating the power of food to fuel education.
Do you think you would have been able to continue your studies at university if you hadn’t been able to eat at school?
I don’t think so. Like I said, I often used to go to school hungry. Sometimes, I went just for the meal. I’d have a snack before class started and another when they let out at 3:30 in the afternoon. Those meals gave me the energy to concentrate on my studies instead of my stomach.
You ended up studying business and economics. What interested you about those subjects?
I was always interested in business, but I never thought I would go to college. Then one day after I finished high school, a woman from WFP, Natalia Vera Cruz called to see how I was doing. She asked why I hadn’t gone to university and I said that my family couldn’t afford it. So she inquired about a scholarship, which eventually came through and allowed me to get my degree.
Did you find university difficult?
No, it was not difficult. All I had to do was study a lot, and I was already used to that.
Things were hard for your family when you were growing up. Are they better now?
Things are much better now. I am working and have a good salary, so I’m able to help my mother. I’ve also made sacrifices to help my brother, Gilson, who is studying at university. So things are a lot better at home.
What about your free time? What do you like to do when you’re not working?
When I’m not working, I like to roam around Praia (the capital of Cape Verde), spend time with my friends and watch television. On Sundays, we often go to the beach; we have beautiful beaches in Cape Verde. I’d also like to travel and visit countries like Italy, France or Brazil. I can’t afford it right now, but I will be able to one day.
What does the future look like for you? When we talk again in 10 years time, what do you hope to be doing?
I am 28 years old now. In 10 years, I want to have a family of my own. I want to get married and have my own children, and my own house.
Feeding futures worldwide
WFP provides school meals to over 22 million children in 70 countries around the world. These daily lunches not only shield them from malnutrition, but give their families extra incentive to keep their children in school. Find out more about WFP school meals programmes.