School meals helping children get the most out of learning
“Getting something to eat in the middle of the day really motivates them to come to school,” explained Adel Masika, a Primary One teacher in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), who is running through the pronunciation of the different vowels in French with her class.
The meal is rice in a sauce with beans, two staples of the local diet. The children eat at their desks in front of the blackboard.
The region around Beni has seen particularly brutal attacks against civilians in recent years, preventing many local communities from working in their fields. Then, in 2018, the area was struck by an Ebola outbreak that turned into the second worst ever Ebola epidemic.
In most of DRC children often purchase breakfast on the way to school: a bread bun with a smear of peanut butter for the lucky ones, or a doughnut. When families run out of cash there is no breakfast.
“Most days I don’t eat anything before I get to school so I’m really happy that they have started serving food here and I hope it will continue,” said 13-year-old Fannuel Kasereka Avota, one of a family of eight children.
Currently in year five of primary school he says his favourite food is rice with a meat sauce and his favourite subject is science. Fannuel dreams of becoming a doctor.
His classmate 11-year-old Claudine Ilunga wants to train as a vet. The youngest of four children, she says her favourite subject is French, specifically the lessons where pupils conjugate verbs. “I liked school even before we got meals,” she said. “But now we get meals it’s even better.”
In a country where parents often prioritize boys’ education over that of girls, school meals can help improve enrolment and retention rates, especially for female pupils.
The school meals programme in the areas affected by DRC’s tenth Ebola epidemic aims to reach 9,000 school children over the 2020-2021 school year.
The project is being carried out jointly by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). The project is part of a $40 million allocation from the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund’s (CERF) rapid response window to help tackle health emergencies in DRC.