The World Food Programme launched its school meals programme in Venezuela, carrying out the first distributions of take-home rations in the state of Falcon.
Sitting in the kitchen, Kim watches attentively as her mother empties the large blue bag they just went to collect at her school. “One, two, three, four. That’s lentils. One, two, three, four, five, six… That’s rice!”, counts the 5-year-old girl pointing at the food piling up on the table.
Today is a special day. It is the first time in over a year that Kim set foot in school. Here, for the people of La Vela de Coro, a small town on the Caribbean coast, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a lengthy economic crisis.
Kim and her family have been particularly affected. Not only have the school gates been shut since March 2020, but her father left home, in guilt, after losing his job.
Now, she and her little brother live alone with their mother Edwymar, who struggles to keep the household afloat. Some neighbours have left town altogether to try and navigate the ongoing crisis.
This Tuesday 6 of July is special as Kim accompanied her mother to her kindergarten, not yet to attend class but, to participate in the launch of WFP’s school meals programme in Venezuela. It happened just over two months after WFP signed an agreement with the government to provide assistance in the areas most affected by food insecurity. The programme will progressively reach 185,000 people by the end of 2021, and 1.5 million by the end of the 2022-23 school year.
Parents or guardians of children like Kim, as well as the school’s staff, received the same blue bag, filled with rice and lentils - indeed as Kim counted, 6 and 4 kilos respectively - a pound of iodized salt and a litre of vegetable oil.
“We are reaching these vulnerable children at a critical stage of their lives when their brains and bodies need nutritious food to develop to their full potential,” says Susana Rico, WFP Representative a.i. in Venezuela, at the maiden distribution in Kim’s school. “Schools like this are more than just a place to learn, they are a pillar of the community and offer a golden opportunity to provide small children with what they need to help them thrive.”
WFP’s school meals programme in the country is centered on schools that exclusively provide initial education. It serves children aged between 2 and 6. Once the authorities decide to reopen schools like Kim’s, WFP will switch from distributing these monthly take-home rations to serving nutritious hot meals directly on the schools’ premises.
“This will most certainly boost our enrollment. Many parents want to register their children to benefit from the meals. This food will improve their quality of life”, says Jholmar Loaiza, the director of Kim’s pre-school while her staff helps with the distribution.
Back in the family kitchen, while rice and lentils are cooking over the gas stove, Kim does a series of pirouettes. “She watches videos of ballet on the phone, she wants to be a dancer”, says Edwymar. “This food Kim received today will give me peace of mind. By having the food at home, I can guaranty her at least one meal a day. I don’t have to worry so much.”
“And lentils are healthy”, she adds with a smile, pointing, as her daughter did earlier, to the bags laid out on her table.