Before Ella joined WFP, she worked in Bolivia from September of 2006 until April of 2007...
Read on to find out about her experiences, and why being picky about your food isn't an option...
On the outskirts of Montero, Bolivia where the landscape becomes tropical and the byways turn sandy and bumpy, sits a dining hall filled with humid air and the cacophony of 120 little voices that reverberate off the tile floor.
Although I’d come to Bolivia to teach underprivileged kids, it was I who received the most important lesson from a student named Abel: proper nutrition is a child’s gateway to transcend the limitations of poverty.
In most ways Abel was a normal kid, but silently he suffered from malnourishment. A flag sign of his condition was the rust-colored stripe across his dark hair where malnutrition had leached color out. At roughly a meter tall, Abel was stunted and will not likely reach his full mental and physical potential.
One lunch I started a conversation with Abel to distract myself from the unfamiliar, slippery protein I was chewing. I had stopped inquiring about the identity of meats once I discovered that patas de chancho were pig feet and lengua was cow tongue. “What’s your favorite food in the whole world, Abel?” I asked.
“Segundo”, he responded—meaning “second”—referring to the hearty second course of rice and protein from a traditional lunch or almuerzo.
I don’t know what I expected Abel to say, but I was sure confused by his answer. Segundo itself is not even a food! When I clarified my question, Abel and the other youngsters looked up at me from their plates of segundo as if I were asking the world’s weirdest question.
Abel’s answer was clear: As long as I’m served lunch, I don’t care what comes on the plate. After all, lunch was the only proper meal these kids ate the entire day.
I finished my liver without batting an eye, having realized what a luxury it is to be a picky eater.
When my students were guaranteed one well-balanced meal each day, I noticed their attendance improved, personalities changed and appetites for learning grew bigger. Long-term a well-fed child will grow to be a more resilient and productive mother or father.
WFP may serve 22 million children lunch in 70 countries worldwide while Etta Projects—a non profit providing poverty alleviation programs—feeds 240 per day, but the point is the same: school lunches produce a wave of positive development beginning with the individual and extending to the community at-large. Sitting in Washington, D.C. at the WFP intern’s desk, Abel reminds me that each of the 1 billion hungry has a name and a story.
Public Affairs Intern
Ella Brown was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She loves salsa dancing, the great outdoors, and fighting hunger.