Cameroon: School meals 'graduate' says thanks

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Many kids in northern Cameroon get their main meal of the day thanks to WFP's school meals program. The program also helps ensure that children get an education - without the meals, their parents wouldn't send them to school. Rekdai Noel, 19, is only now starting to realise what a difference WFP made to his life...

by Callie Lefevre and Ibraima Hamadou

YAOUNDE -- Rekdai Noel is from the poor Far North region of Cameroon. He is a former beneficiary of WFP school meals. He graduated from a primary school where WFP provided free daily lunches to students, as well as take-home rations to girls.

"At home we usually eat millet," he says. "But at my primary school we got to eat rice and beans, so all the children in my area wanted to go!"

Now Noel is successfully continuing his education in the North region. After trading childhood stories with classmates at his new school, Noel came to realize how important school meals had been to him when he was growing up.

Improving lives

He learned more about WFP and decided to write a letter to the organisation's Executive Director, thanking WFP for improving the lives of young people.

"I got my GCE 'O' levels thanks to WFP," he wrote. "I have been fed by WFP food during all my primary school years and I would like to show my gratitude. That's why I'm writing to express my encouragement to WFP for supporting African countries in general and Cameroon in particular."

The teachers at Noel's primary school, Government School Bourha, agree that WFP school meals significantly contribute to the fight against illiteracy and the improvement of education in the northern regions of Cameroon. Students from WFP-assisted schools perform better than those from non-assisted schools. Enrolment rates, particularly among girls, are stronger at WFP-assisted schools.

Concentrate in lessons

"The food helps children from poor families," explains the head teacher, Kodji Teri Deli. "They have to walk long distances of four or five kilometres to and from school. If there were no midday meals, they would not be able to concentrate on lessons, or would not be allowed to come in the first place."

WFP school meals have been so successful at Noel's former school that enrolment has increased to over 500 students. WFP is now working on handing over the program so that the government and the local community can continue to provide school meals while WFP moves to provide assistance to smaller schools in the region.