School Feeding Gives Iraqi Children Hope For A Better Future

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Southern Iraq marshlands, home to thousands of disadvantaged students now benefiting from WFP school meals. © WFP/Mohammed Al Bahbahani

WFP is providing school meals in Thi Qar, one of Iraq's most disadvantaged governorates, until the end of May 2015. Improving health and education is a priority for the governorate and the daily school meals give parents an incentive to send their children to school and keep them there. Mohamed Jalil is one of 21,000 children benefiting from this.

Thi Qar, SOUTHERN IRAQ – The marshes of southern Iraq, referred by some as the original Garden of Eden, experience now the highest poverty rates largely due to extensive draining of the marshlands in the 1980s, which had a severe impact on the governorate’s agriculture-based economy.

Mohamed Jalil is one of many children living in poverty in the marshland district of Chibayish. The road to his school cuts through the marshes and is lined with straw houses that are often soaked inside and out from the rain. On weekends, he helps his father sell fish in the market place for a living.

The 11-year-old dreams of one day becoming a pharmacist so he can “help people get better.” He and the rest of his classmates are a step closer to realizing their dreams. The fifth grader happily says he now goes to school every day where he gets to learn about his favourite subject; Science.

“Now I come to class every day; I attend lessons, play with my classmates and eat a delicious meal every morning,” says Mohamed. He says the daily meals gives him more energy to learn and play football; his favourite sport.

The meals WFP provides are keeping more children in school and are significantly reducing dropout rate as parents ensure their children’s attendance, knowing that they will get a meal. They help break the cycle of malnutrition among the children of Chibayish.

WFP, in cooperation with Iraq’s Ministry of Education, began in February providing daily meals to 21,000 children across 73 schools in Thi Qar. The meals include a slice of bread, cheese, fruit, milk or juice providing children with much-needed nutrients to help both their brains and bodies.

“This meal is important because it helps me stay focused on what my teacher is saying in class. It is good for my body too,” says Mohamed.

Out of poverty

At Mohamed’s school, many of his classmates were too short for their age and underweight, showing signs of malnutrition. One of the teachers tells WFP that since the meals have been introduced the children have more energy and vigour and are much happier throughout the day.

By going to school, and getting the proper nutrition, Mohamed is taking a big step out of poverty, with the opportunity to continue his education and improve the lives of those around him when he grows up.

“I want to help my family and others,” he says.

WFP aims to continue and expand the school meals programme to reach more school children across Iraq in the coming years.