WFP country director Gemmo Lodesani presented Loan to reporters at a symbolic ceremony in Abidjan on Wednesday. She had earlier received the award at a ceremony in Washington, DC.
The award is conferred annually by Friends of WFP in recognition of the contribution made by individuals in the fight against hunger.
In 1988, after obtaining a diploma in population and development from the Catholic University of Louvain La Neuve (Belgium), Loan was recruited by the Ministry of Basic Education and WFP to participate in a study on the feasibility of running a school feeding programme in Cote d'Ivoire. The programme was subsequently established and for many years, Loan served in the department that was in charge of it.
In 1999, WFP threatened to close down the school-feeding programme in 1999 due to a number of constraints and difficulties. However, Loan - who also holds a degree in development and economics of sociology from the University of Abidjan - was appointed the programme's director in 2000, and since then she has breathed new life into it, observers said.
Canteen programme benefits 200,000 children
Cote d'Ivoire's school feeding programme has benefitted more than 200,000 children across the country through the "one school, one canteen" policy in which the Ivorian government and WFP have worked to ensure that as many schools as possible are equipped with canteens.
On the eve of the 2002-2003 school year, which has been disrupted by Cote d'Ivoire's armed conflict, there were 3,400 canteens nationwide. Some 2,400 canteens are operational now, Loan said. About 1,000 others are not. The conflict has, however, not prevented new programme activities. According to Loan, some 300 new canteens out of 500 that were planned for this year are operating. A handful of canteens have also been started up in Abidjan for internally displaced schoolchildren.
WFP contributes 60 percent of the resources the programme needs, the government 30 percent and local communities 10 percent.
During the press meeting, Loan expressed satisfaction that the school-feeding programme had generated more positive effects than originally expected. The programme, which provides each participating child with a lunchtime meal, has increased school enrolment and boosted the retention of pupils. Other achievements have included increasing female enrolment; raising the self-esteem of young girls; and conducting local farming projects enabling communities to produce food for the canteens. It has also generated health-related initiatives such as deworming campaigns and the construction of water-pumps.
In 1989, girls accounted for 18 percent of those attending school canteens. "Today that figure stands at 46 percent," Loan said. "In some schools, girls outnumber boys."
Despite the progress made, Loan said she was worried that the current situation could force the government to reduce its contribution and threaten the programme. Western Cote d'Ivoire remained the "most problematic" area, she said, adding that when the conflict spread from the north to the west, canteen food stocks in some towns.
The programme is WFP's largest in Cote d'Ivoire. Its beneficiaries are among more than 15 million school children in 57 countries whom WFP is assisting under its Global School Feeding Programme.
Friends of WFP is a non-profit association dedicated to mobilizing public support and political leadership to ease global hunger. It trains political leaders and increases public awareness by raising funds for the work of WFP.
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