In Somalia, WFP Meals Transform Children's Lives: From Working Life To Student Life

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Girls at a WFP supported school in Somalia. © WFP / Laila Ali

There are 67 million school-age children worldwide who do not attend school. Poor rural families must often choose between sending their children to school or to work the fields. A daily school meal provides a strong incentive to send children to school and keep them there, and allows the children to focus on their studies, rather than their stomachs. In Somalia, WFP works with over 400 schools and provides daily meals to over 100,000 school children in the parts of the country we have access to.

GALKAYO, Somalia – At the age of 8, Qamar Abdikaadir Yusuf had to share the responsibility of providing for her family alongside her mother and elder sister when their mentally ill father was no longer able to support the family of 10.

With no marketable skills or goods to sell, Qamar spent each morning scavenging through wastebaskets in lodges and busy night spots looking for khat, a leafy narcotic plant popular with many Somalis – not to use, but to sell.

If luck was on her side, she collected enough khat stems that had been discarded by more well-off consumers for her family to resell to khat users in their Buulo Baaley IDP settlement who could not afford to buy it from regular vendors at the retail price.

The family invested proceeds of their sales in buying Hareed, rain water, which they would spend the rest of the day hawking in the main market in Galkayo, a city in central Somalia.

The ultimate reward for their hard work would be a humble meal for the family in the evening.

Qamar’s change in fortune came when her mother enrolled her at a WFP-supported school in Galkayo. There, students are provided with two daily meals, and girls also receive take home rations to share with their families as an incentive for parents to send their daughters to school rather than keeping them at home to help with chores or sending them out to work.

Now 12 years old and in grade 2, Qamar can read and write in Somali as well as speaking a few words in English and Arabic.

“You can see the change on her face. She is shining. She can smile, laugh and happily play with others,” said Qamar’s mother, Aatiko Mohamed Isack.

“The words thank you alone aren’t sufficient to express how grateful we are for the support we receive from WFP. I wish we could do a little more than saying thank you. But we pray that the Almighty Allah rewards them abundantly,” she added.

Story by Muslima Ibrahim