Kenya's Paul Tergat, twice Olympic silver
medalist and world championship record holder over 10,000 metres, explains
why he supports WFP's global school feeding campaign.
I know what it means to be poor and hungry.
I grew up in the town of Baringo in Kenya's Rift Valley where drought, disease and just plain poverty create havoc in the lives of the region's inhabitants and where the lack of food means very few children reach their full potential in life.
Most kids in Baringo had to help their families earn a living. Education was out of the question or, at best, something that only one child in the family could pursue.
For the children who could go to school, like me, the three-mile trek each morning on an empty stomach made it difficult and sometimes impossible to concentrate on our lessons.
When I was eight, however, all that changed. WFP began distributing food at the schools in the area and all of a sudden, a life-long burden was lifted from our shoulders.
My friends and I no longer worried about being hungry in class and could concentrate on our lessons. And those kids who had left came back; others, who had never been to school, were sent by their parents.
I remember how everyone rejoiced, students and parents alike.
The benefits were not just short-term. The idea of school feeding is simple but also ingenious.
I have since learned that research and decades of experience by aid agencies like WFP show that school feeding can immediately alleviate hunger, dramatically increase school attendance and improve educational performance.
It also compensates poor parents for the loss of their children's labour while they attend class. When a school meal is provided, enrolments can double within a year and, in just two year's time, produce up to 40 percent improvement in academic performance.
What makes school feeding so valuable is that far from creating unproductive dependency, it frees individuals to develop their innate potential and builds self-reliance.
WFP Global School Feeding Campaign to end child hunger
In 2001, WFP is launching a global campaign to expand and improve education for millions more poor children.
The Agency's goal is to put school feeding on international agendas while increasing funding from donors and strengthening alliances with charities and governments.
This reinforced global co-operation is expected to not only provide more nutritious meals to more students but also increase the co-ordination of the necessary sanitary, health and educational needs, such as improved teaching training and better classrooms.
Already WFP has formed new partnerships with other UN agencies as well as a large number of charity groups.
A local school feeding project was critical in helping me to grow up to become the healthy, literate and successful person I am today. There is no reason why a global programme can't do the same for millions of other children around the world.
School feeding for the 300 million undernourished children in the world, would immediately reduce the overall number of hungry by more than one-third. And it would do so among its most vulnerable population.
Now there is even more reason to do so. The US Congress has recently committed an annual US$100 million dollars to an international school meals programme for the next 10 years.
With collective commitment, we can rapidly decrease the number of hungry poor in the world while making a solid investment in the individual lives of children and the futures of poor nations.
There is no point in running all your
life, unless there is an important finish line ahead of you.
Paul Tergat: factbox
Paul Tergat, an official ambassador for WFP's Global School Feeding Programme, has an illustrious career in world class athletics:
Born: 17 June 1969, in the shores
of Lake Baringo, Kenya
1977: Riwo Primary School, Baringo
Olympic 10,000 metre silver medallist:
World Championships 10,000 metres: record holder
Cross-country: five times world champion
Half-marathon: twice world record-holder
Marathon 2001: runner-up in London and Chicago.