"The school-feeding programme is mainly to encourage children, especially girls, to attend school," World Vision reported on Monday.
It said that enrolment of girls in the first grade had now outstripped that of boys - 2,042 boys to 2,061 girls - and that "a successful and continuous programme may help to maintain at least a balance between boys and girls attending school".
World Vision said that under the programme, children would be provided with lunch in 46 schools in Karuzi, 161 km west of the capital, Bujumbura.
WFP Reports and Information Officer in Burundi Karine Strebelle told IRIN on Wednesday that the school-feeding programme had begun in January. The programme comes under the agency's Regional Protracted Relief Operation to run up to 2006. "It is a pilot project and will be expanded progressively," she said.
Initially, the programme is being implemented in four of Karuzi's seven communes. WFP, through its contractor, had built kitchens in 21 schools, Strebelle said, "and will continue progressively to complete the kitchen facilities for the remaining 25 schools having basic facilities, such as water points and latrines".
Since January, 14,746 pupils in the 21 schools have already benefited from the programme.
The aim of supplying meals at schools was to enhance pupils' ability to concentrate, increase attendance rates and reduce the number of dropouts, Strebelle said. Moreover, she said, WFP was launching the "highly effective" take-home-rations-for-girls scheme, under which their parents receive a can of cooking oil per month.
"We have waited so long to see the programme start, and now that the actual feeding of the children in school has started, children can stay in school much longer," Maereg Tafere, World Vision's Burundi director, said on Monday. Apart from feeding the school children, she said, World Vision would provide "education in agronomy, health, peace and reconciliation". However, WFP is not involved in this educational aspect.
World Vision said each school had a garden in which pupils would be taught agricultural skills. Produce from these gardens is to be used to diversify their school meals. World Vision said it would also provide children from the poorest families with educational materials, blankets, and worm purgatives.
Burundi had not only endured years of civil war but, in some areas, prolonged spells of drought that had "grossly affected" food production, World Vision reported.
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