**How the World Food Programme buoys schools to boost health and literacy in rural areas **
Education is everything for Francine, a mother of three from Ruhinga village in southern Rwanda. Despite the area still having a staggering 48 percent rate of stunting (impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition), they have witnessed the area improve over time. This gives them hope that their children will have a brighter future.
“When I was little the school was quite far away so we could not always go, but now my children’s school is just around the corner, making it easy to prioritize their education,” says Francine.
Her two youngest sons, 9-year-old Donat and 13-year-old Lambert, are served by the World Food Programme’s home-grown school feeding Programme (HGSF), which provides schoolchildren with a daily nutritious meal. WFP also provides the schools with reading materials, guidance on good nutrition and help to establish kitchen gardens; all geared to improving the students’ health and education.
“My parents are both farmers and spend most of the day working in the fields,” says Lambert. Recalling life before the programme five years ago he adds: “When I was little and before there were school meals, I would come home from school for my midday break feeling hungry but there wasn’t anything for me to eat. This left me low on energy and I didn’t feel like going back to school in the afternoon.”
The school has its own garden where ingredients for the school kitchen are grown, so children learn how to grow vegetables too.
Seedlings are provided to families of the surrounding community to encourage them to diversify the crops they grow. Lambert has helped his family establish a flourishing garden at home.
“We learn a lot about the importance of having a variety of colours in our meal to be healthy,” says Lambert.
But it’s not just about ensuring there is adequate healthy food. Practising good hygiene has never been more critical. WFP has connected the school to a water supply which benefits not only the students but the wider community too. Permanent handwashing facilities are now available, so the community and families no longer have to walk long distances to gather water.
“We used to travel deep into the valley to get water – carrying it back up the mountain. My children used to have to help me with this task. Often, they would be late for school due to the distance but now this isn’t necessary,” says Francine. “This has greatly improved our quality of life and my children can focus more on their studies,” she says.
Reading materials have been produced from stories developed from the surrounding communities to help further improve the children’s literacy skills.
“I am so proud of my reading skills and I like to read stories to my mum,” says Donat. “I know I need to study hard because when I grow up, I want to be a teacher or a doctor,” he says.
His mother shares his dream.
“I am really so proud of my children and what they have accomplished so far - education is key to their future,” says Francine. “They are learning English and impress me with their reading skills. My goal is for my children to study hard and become teachers. That way they could return to their community and help other children to rise out of poverty.” “Now that I have lunch at school it is easy for me to finish the whole day as I am not concentrating on my hunger. The school meals are also delicious”.
“Early results from the programme show that it is having the desired outcomes,” says Amy Blauman, WFP’s education adviser. “Student attendance has increased to 92 percent and student reading comprehension increased from 49 to 78 percent.”
WFP’s HGSF programme supports the Government of Rwanda to provide daily nutritious school meals and complementary activities to 79,000 primary schools students in 108 schools in four of the most vulnerable and food-insecure districts across the country.
The programme is possible with thanks to the generous support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Mastercard.
A 2017 cost-benefit analysis of the program showed that every US $1 invested brought an economic return of US $4.80 from improved health, education, and productivity.