Many children in the Central African Republic (CAR) suffer from intestinal worm infection. These infections can begin early in a child's life, and they affect their health, nutritional status, and mental development. Although the World Food Programme’s (WFP) school meals are crucial, children cannot study properly when they are sick. In collaboration with UNICEF and the Ministry of Education, WFP has just embarked on a deworming campaign as part of its school meals programme, aiming to improve the health of 250,000 children across the country.
With support from Canada and the United States, 70,000 children in 90 schools across the capital of CAR, Bangui, receive WFP school meals. The deworming campaign was launched this week at the Notre Dame Elementary School. The initiative is set to roll out in elementary schools across the country.
Classrooms Are Filling Back Up
The conflict has left a heavy toll on the people of CAR. The good news is that more and more students are returning to school and the classrooms are filling up with students eager to learn. In this fifth-grade math class, children are learning how to say what time it is - adding together the hours and minutes on the clock. Some of them are putting the lesson into practice already. Nadia (middle) says, "I come to school because it is fun to learn, and also because of the meals we get every day! It's only 11:00 am but I'm already counting down til lunch because the food is so tasty!"
Like many children who attend school at Notre Dame Elementary,12-year-old Eudoxie missed out on months of education during the conflict because it was too unsafe for children to make their way to school. Now that she is back at her desk, she is ready to start taking notes - and work towards her dream of being a scientist. “Even when school re-opened, my mother was worried about sending me because it could have been still dangerous. I hope Bangui stays safe so that I can continue coming! And now I can stay focused in my classes with the hot meals we get at lunch time.”
Building Resistance With Deworming Tablets
Time to line up! In the playground, children line up to receive their deworming tablets. Their crossed arms don't mean that they're angry about missing their recess. In CAR, crossed arms demonstrate a sign of respect that they are listening and paying attention to their teachers.
A WFP Programme Manager provides a deworming tablet to a student. One tablet is effective for six months and makes children more resistant to infections. A healthy child can be more active in school and perform better academically.
Children swallow the tablets with a cup of water while teachers ensure the process follows good hygienic practices.
Each school has posters illustrating different parts of WFP's school feeding programme. Curious by the drawings, children gather around the posters even during recess.
A Community Effort
In CAR, the Parents and Teachers Association (PTA) does more than hold bake sales. Here, mothers from the PTA roll up their sleeves and prepare the school meals in the backyard for the students.
School Meals Are A Main Source Of Calories
For many children, school meals are the only food that they eat during the day. This nine-year-old girl is eager to receive her portion. The meal includes rice, beans, oil, and salt.
For eight-year-old Freddy, the daily meal that he receives at school is his main source of calories for the day. "Every day, I eat everything on my plate," he says, beaming.
Photos/text: WFP/Sayaka Sato