Mary is a 14-year old student in Ruvu Remit Primary School, north-western Tanzania. She is one of five children in her family and, before her school started receiving food assistance from WFP, lived on one small meal of porridge each day.
"I was always hungry", Mary remembers. "It was very hard to work in school and sometimes I just didn’t go at all because I was too tired".
Two years ago, WFP school meals came to Ruvu Remit.
"Attendance has gone up about 90% since before we had the meals", says head teacher Salim. "You can also see huge differences in the health of the children, the way they participate in class, and their test scores".
The school’s 588 students receive a mid-morning snack of porridge and lunch of maize and beans, prepared by a cook who is paid by the district authorities.
Mary, like many other students, lives far from school so going home for lunch meant a 26 kilometre walk. The alternative used to be to stay in school without food or, more commonly, to not attend at all. Additionally, in this pastoralist community, children are often kept home from school in order to work, particularly during harvest season. Now families are encouraging their children to attend school as the meals help both the students and their parents
"The meals bring a measure of relief to families who struggle to provide lunch for their children", says Salim.
Community support for the school meals programme has been strong from the start. Families have voluntarily contributed 2.2 million Tanzanian shillings (about US $1,400) to build a new school kitchen and to mill flour for cooking.
"The people see what a difference the meals make to the health and happiness of their children and they want to help", he says.
"We used to be very skinny and tired, but now we are bigger and can concentrate on our classes", says Mary. "Science is my favourite subject so I want to be a doctor or a teacher when I'm older".