Mali: More food means more girls in school (allAfrica)

| September 23, 2013

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It’s lunchtime in Koureme school, located in Kabara village, about 700 kilometres northeast of Mali’s capital city of Bamako. Children gather round a cook who is preparing a highly nutritious porridge. Most of the children are girls.

Schools are now reopening in Mali’s northern region of Timbuktu after the recent conflict. The United Nation’s World Food Program, or WFP, is providing children in 300 schools with two meals a day. This emergency school feeding program has resulted in an increase in attendance, especially for girls.

Mariam is an eight-year-old student at the school. She says: “We like to have lunch, but what we prefer is the breakfast. We are not hungry anymore at the start of the day and now we can focus on the lessons.”

There are 104 girls and 85 boys at the school. Girls usually stay at home in this very traditional region, so this is a big change.

The WFP is feeding about 121,000 schoolchildren in Mali’s north. Each child receives two meals a day: an enriched corn and soya breakfast, and a lunch of rice, millet, pulses and oil. Volunteer cooks are paid with five meals a day to take home to their families.

Idrissa Dembele has taught at Koureme primary school for the past 10 years. She says that before the program started, parents were reluctant to send their daughters to school. She says that now they know their daughters will be fed at school, “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 poor. Its twelve hundred inhabitants earn their living mainly from fishing, and are vulnerable to food crises. The food crisis of 2011-2012 affected the entire country. The conflict that followed led to schools closing. But in Timbuktu, they are reopening.

Parents are relieved that their children are now getting nutritious food at school. Aysha Traore is the President of the Mothers’ Association. She says that the recent tragic events around Timbuktu left lots of families in dire economic straits. She adds: “Lots of them don’t have enough money to feed their children properly. [But] when they send their children to school, the families know that they won’t be hungry when they come back home.”

The WFP notes that by providing meals, the program encourages families to send their children to school. And by going to school, the children have a chance for a better future.

Back at the school, a whistle announces the end of lunch. Before going back to class, eight-year-old Mariam says: “I would like all the schoolchildren in the world to have access to food. 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.”