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WFP and ARC for school feeding in tsunami-ravaged countries

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A partnership between WFP and the American Red Cross (ARC) provides food and opportunities for children in tsunami-ravaged countries. Stacey M. Winston of the ARC in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, reports. This article was first published on the ARC web site.

As the 10 o'clock school bell rings, the children gather around the classroom doorways and peer out excitedly as a small, black-and-white truck arrives on the school grounds. It's snack time at La Dong elementary school in tsunami-ravaged Aceh Besar, Indonesia.

The truck backs up to the doorway, its doors open and small boxes are carried into the classroom. Severe earthquake damage mars the room and a broken blue slide sits across the opening where a wall once stood.

The children wait patiently, talking, laughing and flipping through their notebooks as they wait for the teacher to return to hand out the small red packages marked with blue-and-white writing.

Each shiny package contains 12 cookies fortified with vitamins and micronutrients provided by WFP.

"The school-feeding programme is an incentive to focus on getting children back to school, and keeping them in school," explained Regis Chapman, the American Red Cross head of programmes for WFP in Banda Aceh.

The school-feeding programme, which began in April, is one of the many ways financial contributions to ARC are helping tsunami survivors in the devastated region through a programme carried out in partnership between WFP and ARC. The school-feeding programme is helping nutritionally, and serving as an educational tool.

The tsunami forced thousands of students to leave or miss school, so the fortified cookies are designed to help bolster attendance.

A teacher wearing a bright blue dress with a wide smile and vibrant personality goes to the front of the room. She explains the importance of eating the cookies, their nutritional value - how they will help the children grow stronger and prevent sickness.

"The cookies make the children healthier and happier, it lifts their spirits, so they want to go to school," said Ms. Nuralia, a teacher for 20 years who lost her parents and other family members to the deadly tidal wave.

Fatma Erina, a WFP school-feeding programme officer, feels this is a well designed and important food programme.

"The target group is elementary schools, so we improve the children's health because the cookies contain many vitamins and minerals," said Erina.

"I am happy to do things at a basic education level. The only way to improve the system is through the teachers. We teach the teachers about the value of the cookies... all [the information] goes through the teachers."

Shortly after the tsunami passed through the Indian Ocean, ARC provided US$50 million WFP to meet the emergency needs of up to two million survivors.

Six months later, the WFP and ARC partnership has already fed more than 1.6 million people in tsunami-affected countries where they work together. This includes food for the most vulnerable survivors - the children.

ARC and WFP are feeding children such as 11-year-old Susila and her friends.

"The teacher told me that the cookies would make me healthier, stronger and smarter," said Susila as she giggled with her best friend and munched on her snack.

"I love the cookie because it tastes like milk."

The food programme also provides opportunities for children like Hambali, 11, since it motivates them to attend school.

"I love singing," said Hambali. At the request of the teacher, he confidently walks to the front of the classroom and begins to sing. It is an emotional song about the tsunami. When he finishes, his classmates applaud and he returns to his seat.

But just moments later he returns to the front of the classroom for an encore. This time he improvises a humorous tune. The classroom erupts with laughter, and he finishes the song with a round of applause.

Thanks in part to generous caring donors, whose contributions support the ARC partnership with WFP, the programme in Indonesia is currently providing food to 156,000 school children across 10 tsunami-affected school districts and will continue to expand with the start of the next school year in July.

The programme, which began in April, has fed more than a million people in Indonesia. In Sri Lanka, approximately 150,000 children in schools receive food from WFP.

"Food is to be used in developmental ways, so [the programme] will continue for as long as there is a need, and as long as the government requests it," said Chapman. "There is going to be a need [for food] for some time to come."

For just 19 cents a day, WFP global school-feeding campaigns, such as these helping tsunami survivors in Sri Lanka and Indonesia, provide children in poor countries with a healthy meal at school. It's not just a meal; it is a gift of hope for a brighter future.