US Congressman opposes budget reduction for World Vision Program in Afghanistan

News and Press Release
Originally published
Washington, D.C. - American Congressman James McGovern addressed the US House of Representatives this month concerning the reduction of funding by President Bush for the USDA Global Food for Education program. In Afghanistan, this program is currently being implemented by World Vision . McGovern called on congressional leadership to increase funding for the World Vision program, and for USDA Global Food for Education programs. (The text of the speech is listed below.)
"Mr. Speaker, currently there are more than 300 million chronically hungry children in the world. Around 130 million of these children, mainly girls, do not attend school. The rest go to school hungry, severely limiting their ability to learn.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program is helping to change this grim reality. One exciting example of this program is taking place in Afghanistan, where World Vision is making a difference in the lives of 37,000 children.

In Afghanistan, 52 percent of children under five are malnourished. Access to education is extremely limited, and the quality of the education, when available, is poor. The Taliban largely excluded girls from formal education - and women were prohibited from teaching. The World Bank estimates the primary school enrollment rate at 39% for boys and 3% for girls. In the current environment, the demand for education opportunities far outstrips supply. Schools run multiple shifts, and many classes meet outside with the barest minimum of basic materials, teachers and facilities.

This particular McGovern-Dole program is being implemented in 115 schools in the remote provinces of Badghis and Ghor in the Western Region of Afghanistan. In this area, out of a school-age population of 60,000, only 23,000 students were enrolled in schools last year; and just some 3,400 of these were girls.

World Vision is providing 37,000 students with a monthly ration of wheat, rice, lentils and vegetable oil for attending school, which also serves as an incentive for poor Afghan families to send both their sons and daughters to class. These commodities are provided by hard working farmers in Washington State, California, Wisconsin, Tennessee, and Minnesota. In the most remote areas, World Vision is using donkey trains to transport the food to the schools.

In each of the 115 schools, World Vision trains community volunteers to help identify pressing needs. World Vision will provide all 37,000 students with a student kit, including notebooks, pens, pencils, erasers, sharpeners, shoes, a book bag, and a cloth wrap for the girls so they are not excluded from education in these conservative areas due to cultural taboos.

World Vision also works with community volunteers to make sure that the school is a proper learning environment for the children, and will be supplying each school with chalkboards and chalk, desks, tables, cabinets, maps, books, water systems and latrines.

World Vision is building nine schools over the course of the next year in the Jarwand district, where there are only six schools, covering just 4% of the total student population. While nine schools cannot address all of this need, it will allow another 3,600 students to attend classes. These schools will replace and greatly expand four temporary schools set up last year under UNICEF plastic tents. Five of these schools are being constructed with McGovern-Dole funding; the other four are being built with private resources raised by World Vision. World Vision is working with local counsels so that some of these new schools will be set up exclusively for girls.

World Vision's agronomists are also helping each school set up its own garden to raise cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, okra, onions, carrots, spinach, hot peppers, turnips and watermelon, which will complement the US-grown commodities with the micro-nutrients that vegetables can supply. These garden projects also teach improved agricultural techniques to students and interested community members, which they can use in their own family farming; and they help the schools establish a micro-enterprise, selling the excess production and using the funds to defray the school's costs.

World Vision is training 675 teachers in the new Ministry of Education curriculum, designed by UNICEF to replace the Taliban's restrictive system. It is also complementing teachers' meager salaries with food baskets, so they can dedicate their full time to teaching, instead of having to take on jobs outside of schools. This support comes at a critical time in Afghanistan's transition, as the new government struggles to re-establish infrastructure in these remote areas.

Originally, World Vision's Afghanistan program was designed as a two-year program, and in the second year, it would have greatly expanded benefits to additional communities, students and teachers. Unfortunately, President Bush severely cut funding for the McGovern-Dole program, and Congress failed to protect the program in the appropriations process. Sadly, many projects have been cut back to one year.

Mr. Speaker, I call on the leadership of this House to significantly increase funding for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program, so that its many worthy projects, like the World Vision program in Afghanistan, can reach even more needy children and communities."

Operating in five provinces of Afghanistan, World Vision promotes Relief and Development programs in the sectors of Health, Food Security, Education and Infrastructure. Founded in 1950, World Vision is a faith based humanitarian organization serving the world's poorest children and families in over 100 countries.

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