Ousamane Soumaila, grade-6 student from Gao.
In Northern Mali, a lot more children are finishing the school year than started it. This is in part thanks to WFP School Meals, with funding from the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Department (ECHO).
BAMAKO - In 2013, as security began to improve in Mali, the government started working towards post-war recovery with an ambitious back-to-school campaign. The “Peace is back, school is back” campaign aimed to help 500,000 children, whose education had been disrupted, get back to school and back on track.
WFP’s emergency school feeding programme aims to ensure that children can count on regular, healthy meals and get the micro-nutrients they need. By providing children who attend school with two meals-a-day, parents can count on their children returning home, not only with an educated mind, but also a full belly.
Since December of 2013, in the 617 schools assisted by WFP in northern Mali, there has been an increase in student enrolment of almost 20 percent. While this increase can’t be attributed solely to school feeding, partners and educators alike said that they believe it makes a significant difference.
“I can tell you that lots of my friends and I come to school regularly thanks to the canteen. It also encourages students to come on-time because we know we’ll get breakfast when we arrive”, explained Ousamane Soumaila, a grade 6 student from Gao city.
The principal of the primary school in the village of Dendedjer in the Timbuktu region said that few children were attending chool before WFP started providing school meals. Since the announcement that school meals would resume, the number of students enrolled at his school increased significantly.
“Out of a total of 123 students, 122 have perfect attendance. The meals have really improved attendance and have also encouraged children to arrive on-time.” he said.
WFP partners have also stressed the importance of the return of school meals to bringing a sense of normalcy to children’s lives. “Parents of the students really appreciate WFP for its school feeding programme. From their point of view, it is a stabilizing factor in every sense” said a WFP partner in a recent report.
Barriers to Education
In Mali, particularly in the North, barriers to education are numerous: lack of teachers, damaged schools and chores at home can all contribute to the decision to keep a child at home.
Even before the crisis, the education situation in Mali was difficult. According to national statistics, just 33 percent of adults can read.
Building on Success
Thanks to humanitarian funding from the European Union (ECHO), the WFP emergency school feeding programme currently covers 130,000 children in 617 schools in Gao and Timbuktu.
As the security situation improves and schools are rebuilt to meet safety and quality criteria, WFP will continue to increase its school feeding programme. In 2014, WFP expects to feed 200,000 children in northern Mali.