By William Lambers
A child in the war-torn African nation of Mali just wrote a letter to the U.N. World Food Programme. Emergency school meals are being provided by the agency in Northern Mali.
“Our parents are poor and tired,” the child wrote. “Thank you WFP who gave us food so we could work hard in school. We always count on God and you. With WFP it’s okay. The school in Barize thanks you.”
The food agency’s plan is to feed children, but at the same time get them back in school and learning. It’s a strategy that is proven to work.
It is going full-steam ahead at providing these meals through the rest of this year. Right now, 120,771 students in Northern Mali get two meals a day: an enriched breakfast and a lunch. Volunteer cooks also receive take-home rations.
It’s common sense that school meals are important, especially for a nation trying to find that road to peace after a war. Tragically, that does not always translate into funding for school meals. When discussing international relations, talk seldom revolves around humanitarianism, the very thing people around the world need most.
The U.N. food agency needs funding to make sure school meals continue the rest of this year and into next year. The agency relies entirely on voluntary donations. That means budget decisions by the U.S. Congress have a dramatic effect. If funding disappears, so too will the school meals. That is a silent tragedy that goes unseen.
In Mali, the World Food Programme has a homegrown school feeding project in the southern part of the country. By helping small farmers become the providers of the meals, it helps build the future of the country, one where the people can sustain themselves.
Catholic Relief Services also has a school feeding program in Mali that is set to resume in October. Spokeswoman Kristina Brayman reports the program will operate in 310 schools with an end goal of feeding 80,000 children.
The U.S. McGovern-Dole school lunch program supports the Catholic Relief Services initiative in Mali. Congress will be deciding in the coming weeks how much funding to give McGovern-Dole.
Some members of Congress want these budgets made responsibly, and are desperately trying to get the fight against hunger at the top of the foreign policy agenda.
It’s in everyone’s interests that we fight hunger and provide school meals around the world. A child who received school meals in Germany wrote after World War II, “If every people will help the other, like you does, we should have a lasting peace soon.”
That is what the world needs most of all now.
William Lambers is an author who partnered with the U.N. World Food Programme on the book “Ending World Hunger.”