CAIRO-The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) today launched a new phase of its ongoingschool feeding programme in Egypt targeted at 3,000 girls living in Fayoum and Sohag governorates.
As part of the Egyptian government's"Girls' Education Initiative", WFP will distribute monthly take-home rations of 12.5 kilos of rice and 3.7 kilos of vegetable oil to each girl student who maintains an 80 percent class attendance rate.
"We are confident that our food aid will provide a strong incentive for parents to send their daughters to school, and for the girls to maintain high rates of attendance," said Michael Stayton, WFP's Chief of Staff at its Rome headquarters, who presided over the WFP launching today in Fayoum.
While primary education is compulsory in Egypt, the cost of books and clothing has made it too expensive for impoverished rural households in poorer governorates like Fayoum and Sohag to send their children to school.
According to Egypt's National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), in Fayoum alone, the number of children outside the schooling system is 48,812. Almost two-thirds of them - more than 33,000 - are girls.
"Traditional attitudes and lack of facilities in very remote areas means that girls are the first to be excluded from education," said Ambassador Muchira Khatab, Chairwoman of NCCM.
The consequences are evident nationwide. Only 20 percent of women in rural Upper Egypt and 35 percent in rural Lower Egypt are literate, compared to 65 percent in urban areas. In some areas literacy rates are as low as 10 percent for women.
In an effort to address the problem, Egypt's First Lady Suzanne Mubarak launched the Girl's Education Initiative in June 2003 with the overall aim to improve female education and close the gender gap in primary education in Egypt by the end of 2005.
The government initiative, which will last five years and is valued at 157 million Egyptian pounds (US$25 million), supports the construction ofschools in seven governorates (Giza, Fayoum, Menia, Assiut, Beni Suef, Sohag and Beheira) and educational support to more than 500,000 girls, from ages 6 to 14.
In Fayoum and Sohag, 115 schools have already been built under the Girls' Education Initiative. By the end of this month, an additional 72 schools will have been completed in Fayoum for 1,800 students.
Last week WFP signed a Memorandum of Understanding with NCCM and two Egyptian non-governmental organizations which are WFP's implementing partners for the take-home ration programme - the Muslim Youth Society (Fayoum) and the Association for Community Development of Women and Children's Status (Sohag).
In addition to WFP's latest take-home ration initiative, the agency has been assisting 282,000 primary school children, both boys and girls, with school meals in three governorates in Upper Egypt since 2003.
"When girls are not educated, poverty will not disappear and development will not succeed," said Bishow Parajuli, WFP's Country Director in Egypt.
WFP opened its office in Egypt in 1963, and over the years, has provided the country with food aid assistance valued at US$636 million. It is currently assisting 500,000 people, through a combination of development projects including school feeding.
WFP is the world's largest humanitarian agency: in 2003 we gave food aid to a record 104 million people in 81 countries, including 56 million hungrychildren.
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