• Human Development

School meals: UN contribution to nutrition and education

KIGEME, Rwanda – “I used to dodge classes and stay at home to help my mother prepare food for a large family of 10 people. But I began to behave when I started eating porridge at school,” said Bodouine Amani, 13, who lives with her parents and seven brothers and sisters in the Kigeme camp for Congolese refugees in Rwanda.

She welcomes the mid-morning porridge she eats at school with her classmates.

“The porridge makes me concentrate on studies and pass tests well,” said Bodouine. She said concentrating in class and steady attendance will help her achieve her dream of becoming a doctor.

“My mother allowed me to go school because it was a relief to her, one less mouth to feed. I concentrated on my studies and my performance increased,” she said.

Kigeme is one of six refugee camps in Rwanda, managed by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Refugee Affairs (MIDIMAR) and UNHCR.. In 2012-2013, Rwanda received a sudden influx of over 35,000 refugees from the eastern DRC, fleeing fighting between Government forces (FARDC) and rebel militias. As a result, UNHCR and MIDIMAR opened Kigeme camp in Nyamagabe District, Southern Province, in mid-2012. Today, Kigeme is home to over 18,000 of these newly-arrived Congolese refugees. 

Bodouine and her family were among those who fled to Rwanda when fighting spread across northern Kivu..

School meals support education

Refugee children like Boudouine benefit from WFP’s school meals programme because receiving a healthy lunch in class each day keeps attendance and enrolment up, contributes to valuable nutritional needs and prepares children for the future.

This is why WFP prioritises its school meals programmes. Worldwide, WFP provided meals, snacks or take-home rations to almost 17 million children in 2015. When emergencies arise, a school meals programme can help to ensure that an entire generation does not go without an education.

In 2013, there were 124 million children between the ages of 6-15 out of school. Global analyses have shown that school feeding programmes can increase attendance and enrolment significantly.

Education is critical during emergencies and protracted crises. Schools can protect the children from conflict and related risks. Depending on their age, children risk health or developmental problems, early marriage, labour exploitation, recruitment into armed forces, or radicalisation.

As the Government of Rwanda has adopted a policy of integration into its national education system to refugees, the UNHCR Rwanda Education Strategy aims to further this integration. UNHCR and partners ensures that refugee students are enrolled in schools, hires refugee teachers,  provides tuition fees and scholastic materials.

Affected communities systematically identify education and food among the top priorities in times of crisis. By providing school meals and take-home rations, which both offset the cost of school fees and increase food security. School meals have proved to enhance access when many other systems break down during emergencies. They are especially helpful in encouraging children to attend informal schools when classrooms aren’t available. In 2015, WFP provided school meals to 6.5 million children in emergency and post-emergency areas in 24 countries.

Educated girls like Bodouine are more likely to wait until they’re older to get married, and also tend to have healthier families and make a better living. Just one additional year of school can make a huge difference in the life of a girl.

Food and nutrition support

In this camp, WFP also provides electronic cash transfers each month so refugees can meet their basic food needs. Providing cash – as opposed to the monthly food distributions that had been provided in the past – allows refugees to diversify their food choices.

Furaha Ange, 27, lives in Kigeme camp with her three children. She was one of the first Congolese refugees transferred to the Kigeme Camp by UNHCR when it was set up in 2012.

Furaha’s first husband was killed in Ngungu village as fighting swept through the Masis region. She was forced to flee with her son, Shema. They walked for scores of kilometers to safety. Once they reached the safety of Rwanda and were received by aid organizations, her young son was diagnosed as chronically malnourished. She soon began receiving fortified nutritious porridge from WFP to bring Shema back to good health.

 “I was so happy to see my child recovering after six months,” said Furaha. “I had lost hope.”

Four years later, Shema is happy and has started going to an elementary school in the center of the camp.

Furaha, now remarried with two more children, says she is grateful because she receives overall assistance from UNHCR and food assistance from WFP in the form of monthly cash transfers, which enables her to buy the food she prefers. She buys staple foods and fresh produce for her children to ensure the good health of the entire family. Furaha lost all of her possessions including land and livestock when she left her home, but she hopes one day she will be able to return to DRC.