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Sudan: School Meals Feed Displaced Child’s Hope Of Becoming Doctor

Enrollment at schools in Northern Darfur where kids get free meals from WFP rose substantially over the 2010-2011 school year, statistics show. One of the kids benefitting from the daily meal of nutritious porridge is Haythum, 12, whose family was displaced by conflict 4 years ago.

Enrollment at schools in Northern Darfur where kids get free meals from WFP rose substantially over the 2010-2011 school year, statistics show. One of the kids benefitting from the daily meal of nutritious porridge is Haythum, 12, whose family was displaced by conflict 4 years ago.

ZAM ZAM, northern Darfur -- Haythum Siddiq was eight years old when the conflict in north Darfur forced his family to flee their village Tabit and take refuge in Zam Zam camp, just outside the regional capital El Fasher.  Four years later Zam Zam has become home. Haythum attends school in the camp and at weekends he works at a fruit juice shop in downtown El Fasher, earning four Sudanese Pounds per day (1.3 US$) .
He can’t remember much about fleeing from his home village with his family. But he knows he would like to go back. In the meantime, school offers Haythum the hope that he will be able to  realize his dream of some day becoming a doctor.
Haythum attends the Al Salam School for Boys No. 19 together with his two brothers. His four sisters attend another school in Zam Zam , which is home to more than 100,000 displaced people in North Darfur. Most of the schools in displaced people’s camps are made of thatched grass roof and walls. The children sit mats on the ground.
Although they don’t have desks or chairs, kids like Haythum and his siblings do get a nutritious lunch every day at school.  “They get cereals, lentils and corn soya blend cooked with vegetable oil and salt or sugar,” said WFP Programme Officer Haymanot Assefa who is responsible for overseeing the agency’s school feeding programme in 734 schools across North Darfur.  Some  56 of the schools are inside displaced people’s camps like Zam Zam.
“In addition to meeting the children’s nutritional requirements, a school meal also makes up more than a quarter of their daily caloric requirement,” Assefa said.
Haythum put it differently: “I like the food, it keeps me alive.” 
Recent analysis of data collected from schools with WFP-assisted school feeding programme in North Darfur shows a 21 percent increase in school enrollment over the 2010-2011 school year and a very high attendance rate.
A dedicated team of education officials and teachers who work with the Parents and Teachers Associations (PTAs) make these schools a haven for children to learn and eat healthy meals.  Since the beginning of 2011, WFP has trained over 1,200 education officials, teachers, members of PTAs and cooks on how school feeding programme should be implemented.  
“With school meals we help nourish children’s bodies and minds,” said Assefa.
North Darfur is one of the three states of Sudan’s Darfur region which has been mired in conflict since 2003.   The conflict has devastated the region’s infrastructures including schools, where free lunch schemes began some 40 years ago in 1969 with the State Ministry of Education.  But conflict later forced the government to cut the programme which was revived by WFP when it first established its office in the state in 1987.  

Again conflict got in the way and forced WFP to temporarily suspend its school feeding programme in August 2004.  A year later, the agency revived the programme  in 26 pilot schools in El Fasher and later in 95 primary schools across Kabkabiya and Kutum towns,  reaching more than 60,000 school children.  WFP further scaled up the programme in 2011 to reach 734 schools feeding more than 300,000 school children.

By the end of 2011, WFP plans to have reached more than four millions conflict-affected people in Darfur through school feeding and a range of other programmes.