by Antti Mantymaa
FREETOWN -- In the town of Tintafor, just a stone’s throw from the international airport of the Sierra Leonean capital Freetown, children no longer go to classes hungry. At the end of a bumpy road is Saint Augustine Primary School, one of 60 schools receiving food assistance from WFP in Port Loko district.
The principal Ms Cassandra Johnson has worked in the school for years and has seen the difference a school feeding programme can make. “School feeding attracts many children to school in the first place,” she says.
More girls in school
When WFP started providing food at Saint Augustine Primary School, the decade-long civil war was still on-going. Before WFP assistance, there were some 600 pupils enrolled in the school. Today the number is almost 900 and more than half of them are girls.
“With school feeding, children can concentrate on what they are here for – on learning,” explains Ms Johnson. “At the time when we could not provide them with school meals, children would spend their 45-minute lunch breaks looking for food outside the school premises,” she said. Some of the pupils returned to school late or empty-handed, she recalls.
Hot meal daily
Today is different. Children have a hot WFP school meal every day with bulgur wheat, beans, salt, and vegetable oil. The community provides vegetables, fish, onion, and seasoning as local contributions. After the lunch break children have time and energy to play and then go back to their class rooms.
Ms Johnson has seen how school feeding pays off. During the last year, the school registered only one drop-out.
Almost 300,000 children at nearly 1,000 primary schools in Sierra Leone received school meals from WFP in 2008. By feeding their minds and helping the children concentrate on their studies, WFP is helping to build the future of a country which is still struggling with the consequences of the civil war.