In Timbuktu, More Food Means More Girls In School

As schools reopen in the conflict-affected region of Timbuktu in northern Mali, WFP is providing children in 300 schools with two meals a day. This emergency school feeding programme has seen an increase in attendance, especially for girls. 

It’s lunch time at Koureme school, located in Kabara village in the district of Timbuktu. Children are gathered around the cook who is preparing a highly nutritive porridge. Most of them are girls.

WFP is feeding some 121,000 school children in the north of the country. They receive two daily meals, an enriched breakfast of a corn and soya mix, and a lunch with rice, millet, pulses and oil. Volunteer cooks receive five meals daily to take home.

By supporting these schools, WFP is encouraging families to send their children to school and improving their chances for the future.

“We like to have lunch, but what we prefer is the breakfast” said Mariam, an 8-year-old girl. “We are not hungry anymore at the start of the day and now we can focus on the lessons.”

The girls outnumber the boys at Koureme school, there are 104 girls and 85 boys. In this very traditional region where girls usually stay at home, it is a big change.

“Before the start of the programme, parents were reluctant to send their daughters to school” said Idrissa Dembele, elementary school teacher at Koureme for the past 10 years.  “Now they know they will receive food at school that they don’t always have at home and it is a great incentive for education. School results have also improved, since the children are no longer hungry when they are studying”

The village of Kabara is very poor. Its 1250 inhabitants live essentially from fishing, and are vulnerable to food crises such as the one of 2011-2012 that affected the entire country of Mali. The conflict that followed and the uncertain security situation led to the closing of the schools. In Timbuktu, they have now reopened.

For the parents, knowing that their children will receive appropriate food at school is a relief.

“The tragic events that occurred in the Timbuktu area left lots of families in a very bad economic situation” said Aysha Traore, president of the mothers’ association. “Lots of them don’t have enough money to feed their children properly. When they send their children to school, the families know that they won’t be hungry when they come back home.”

A whistle announces the end of the lunch. Before going back to class, Mariam tells us her dream:

“I would like all the school children in the world to have enough food to eat” she said. “If they are not hungry they can study well, and in the future they will help their family by earning enough money to buy food. And children won’t be hungry anymore.”