Gewane, ETHIOPIA – A daily round trip of three hours along a dusty road might not appeal to many, but for schoolgirl Fatuma Hamedu, the journey shows just how committed she is to changing her life.
“I travel this distance every day,” says Fatuma. “I do it to learn but also so I can eat.”
Fatuma is a grade 2 student at Meteka Primary School in Ethiopia’s northern Afar Region. She is 12 years of age and older than most of her classmates, as she started her education late. Her parents decided three years ago that Fatuma should go to school and were encouraged by the fact that their daughter would receive a daily hot meal under WFP’s Food-for-Education programme.
Fatuma arrives at school at 8 o’clock in the morning and returns home at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Her sun-burnt skin testifies to her daily commute under the blazing Afar sun.
“Sometimes I may have a glass of goat milk before I leave home in the morning,” says Fatuma. “But whether I have it or not, I prefer the food at school, it’s delicious and really filling.”
The driving force
The school management confirms that the driving force behind the annual increase in the student attendance rate is the daily midday meal.
“Last year, there were 180 girls and 177 boys,” says school principal Berhane Yimer. “The numbers have gone up again this year and now there are even more girls than boys.”
Wossen Gebrehiwot is the government focal point for the Food-For-Education programme in Afar region and works closely with WFP.
“Despite the high mobility of communities in this pastoralist region, we’ve witnessed a decrease in dropouts and an increase in class attendance rates,” he says. “And this is mainly due to the school meals which are particularly important in attracting more girl students.”
Giving Fatuma an education also helps her build her own future and she is determined to pursue her studies.
“Nothing should get in the way of my education,” says Fatima. “I want to be a teacher when I grow up.”
The school meals programme operates in primary schools in food insecure and pastoral areas of Afar, Amhara, Oromiya, SNNPR, Somali and Tigray regions of Ethiopia.