WFP School feeding program boosts learners’ performance in WES

Thousands of school children in Western Equatoria State could have been out of school if it was not for the hot meals being facilitated by the World Food Programme (WFP).
Beneficiary of homegrown school meal recieving his meal at St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School last week in Yambio. Photo: Awan Achiek.

By Awan Achiek

Thousands of school children in Western Equatoria State could have been out of school if it was not for the hot meals being facilitated by the World Food Programme (WFP).

The school feeding meals have helped improve the class attendance of 16-year-old Bidal Emmanuel Justin.

“The program improved my performance, before, I was very lazy in the class room and I was not even passing well during exams,” said Emmanuel who attends his primary 8 classes at St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School in Yambio town.

He was speaking to journalists last week during the visit facilitated by WFP to tour the implementation of the school feeding program in the State.

Emmanuel said that the school meals have contributed to his academic performance, after he topped his class in the just concluded first term exams.

 “There is a girl who passed in the first position because of this feeding program,” he said.

The program has immensely uplifted underprivileged children from humble backgrounds in the State.

 “We don’t go outside looking for food, we have our lunch here in school, and we can just eat and go back to class. It is also helping us to save the money that we were supposed to spend on buying lunch,” said Emmanuel.

He said the money they previously spent on buying eateries and lunch is now being used by their parents to buy scholastic materials.

“This program is more enjoyable than the previous one, we are having a balanced diet in the school, there are days we eat cassava leaves, tomatoes and cabbage. Sometimes, we don’t even like eating food from home because the food we are eating here in school is more tasteful than the one at home,” said Emmanuel.

The World Food Programme buys food from local small-holder farmers to provide daily meals to 3,060 pupils in 4 schools in Yambio and Saura of Western Equatoria State.

Sicma Juan John, a 13-year-old primary 8 pupil at St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School, said that children used to fall sick prior to the introduction of school meals.

“Before the program, children were falling sick due to hunger but since the introduction of the school meals, we no longer go home before time to look for food,” said Juan.

Juan said that they are not only fed, but are being trained to establish a nursery bed at school.

“We now have a school garden at our school where we plant crops in the garden, they teach us how to plant maize,” she said.

 “We are now able to participate fully in the class, we can now give answers to questions asked by teachers in the class,” added Juan.

Pupils enjoying their meals at St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School. Photo: Awan Achiek.

Morak Justin Bati, the Matron of St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School, said  the school meals have contributed a lot in terms of school enrolment, compared to previous years when many children dropped out of school due to lack of meals.

 She noted that in the past girls used to go after men to buy them lunch, which forced many to engage into sexual intercourse with these men leading to early pregnancies.

Justin said before the introduction of the school meal, eight girls dropped out of school due to hunger.

 “It has also helped to resolve the issues of early pregnancy because after the men have given money to the girls, they tend to make sexual advances,” she disclosed.

 Anthony Ermeneo, a Representative of the Parents Teaching Association at St. Bakhita School, appreciated WFP and partners such as World Vision and Star Trust Organization for providing critical meals to pupils.

 “The program has encouraged us to farm and in return, WFP purchases our food and brings it to school to feed our children. We are now able to pay school fees for our children from the sale of our food products,” he said.

Angelo Ateny Awach, Head Teacher of St. Bakhita Nursery and Primary School said that school feeding program started in 2019 with food imported from neighboring countries such as Uganda.

He said in 2023, WFP introduced a cash transfer program which improved school enrolment.

“This cash based transfer project drastically improved the performance of the learners, we graduated four candidates last year,” said Ateny.

He disclosed that school enrollment has increased from 1,231 to 1,811 this year.

 “Our first candidates are sitting this year in senior four exams, and others are now in senior three and senior two,” said Ateny.

Cooks distributing food to pupils. Photo: Awan Achiek.

For his part, Simon Mbata, one of the vendors contracted by WFP, said he is supplying schools with maize flour, rice, tomatoes, cabbage and cowpeas and banana leaves.

He said he has earned income from the school feeding program.

 “There are two challenges we face in supplying the food, one challenge we face is the problem of unstable currency exchange rate. Our payment used delay for three weeks and when we received the money in the local pounds it is devalued due to inflation,” said Mbata.

Beeyo Simon Martin, World Vision Food Assistance Project Manager, said the main objective of the homegrown school meals is to increase the retention and improve performance of pupils in school.

 He said the program previously covered Maridi, Ibba, Tambura and Ezo but currently, it covers only 4 schools in Yambio and Saura.

Simon identified the huge funding gap as the main challenge facing the program.

“The challenge is the funding gap because now you can see that schools are very many, but the ones which are targeted are few, and as you can see this school we are standing in St. Bakhita, enrollment has increased,” he said.

He appealed to donors to provide funds needed to address the funding gap, adding that the money is required to also expand the cash based transfer to reduce logistical constraint.

The homegrown school meal program started in 2018 with 1,000 farmers in Yambio County of Western Equatoria State. It targets smallholder farmers with 1 to 10 feddans.

In November 2023, the country launched a four-year home-grown school feeding program supported by WFP to help improve school enrollment and retention.

The program funded by German Government through KFW and the Canadian government is supporting about 40,000 small-holder farmers across South Sudan.

WFP injected 2.7 million U.S. dollars to strengthen the capacity of farmers through training to be able to produce food locally, which WFP buys from them for their operation.

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