about the author
Spokesperson for South and East Asia
Marcus Prior, a former journalist, was WFP's East Africa spokesperson before coming to Bangkok in 2010 to head up public relations in South and East Asia.
Almost all the students at the Enguike primary school in Tanzania now pass entry exams for secondary school. But before the free meals programme started, the pass rate was close to zero.
ENGUIKE (Northern Tanzania) -- George Lowassa, the district coordinator for school feeding, remembers what it was like at the local primary school before the free meals programme started. "You would find the children fast asleep because they were so hungry and tired. Many of them have to walk up to 12 kilometres just to get here – on an empty stomach! Can you imagine?”
In 2003, thanks to the support of WFP, the school began to offer every child a morning snack and a cooked lunch. “Before the programme started, not one of our children graduated to secondary school. Enrollment and attendance were very low,” says headmaster Emmanuel Kaaya. “But we have seen a tremendous change.”
What would it take to feed the 59 million children who go to school hungry?
It would cost the world just $3 billion a year.
Pass rate climbed
In 2004, the first Enguike students made it on to secondary school – half of the class of 18 passing their exams. The pass rate has climbed steadily since, with 36 of 38 passing last year. The difference is anecdotal, but astounding nonetheless.
And when times are tough, school meals become even more important. The Enguike district is in the grip of a drought after recent rains failed. Row after row of maize stands blitzed in the fields. Farming households now await the next harvest in two or three months, doing their best to make ends meet in the meantime.
Main meal of day
“People are not getting food they need,” says headmaster Kaaya. "When they go home, most of the children will only get some kind of porridge for their evening meal. What they get in school is their main food for the day.”
Students like Jonas Oltimbau, a 15 year-old in Standard 6, are a case in point. His parents are farmers and he has watched their maize wither and die this year. School is where he gets his best meal of the day – by the time he gets home, dinner will be little more than a few mouthfuls.
He wants to be a lawyer: “I want to practise the laws of our country to maintain peace and stability in Tanzania.”
A few years ago, Jonas’s dream might have sounded like fantasy.