WFP school meals are helping hundreds of thousands of South Sudanese students stay in school and build a brighter future, and WFP is working to help the young country's Ministry of Education build and sustain a national school meals system.
JUBA - As schools re-open for a new academic year in South Sudan hundreds of thousands of young children are looking forward to the nutritious meals provided by the World Food Programme (WFP).
The school meals contribute to relieve short-term hunger, make it possible for poor families to send hungry children to school rather than have them stay at home to contribute to the family's income thus improving attendance.
"We know that food is a source of energy. If you come from home without eating anything, if the teacher tries to teach you, you'll look at the chalk but one letter would divide in two which is not good," says Bakhita Josephine Sisto, a pupil of St. Theresa Primary School in Torit, Eastern Equatoria state.
Sisto's school was one of the more than one thousand primary schools across South Sudan where WFP provided a daily hot meal as part of its food-for-education activities in 2012.
In all, WFP provided hot meals to 488,000 primary school pupils and a monthly take home ration of cereals and vegetable oil to 35,000 girls last year. The take-home ration for girls is an effort to encourage parents to allow their daughters attend school.
Recognising the positive role of school meals in helping to retain children in school, WFP is determined to assist the young nation, which became independent in 2011, to develop a government-led national programme to provide healthy and nutritious food to children at school.
School meals are currently provided under initiatives run by international agencies, with WFP alone catering for 30 percent of the estimated 1.5 million children attending primary schools in the country. However, experts say effective and sustainable school feeding requires national ownership.
"WFP continues to provide food in schools for hundreds of thousands of children in South Sudan - but we don't expect to be here forever, which makes it important to lay the groundwork now for a gradual transition to a government-led national school food assistance program," Kiganzi Nyakato, head of the food-for-education unit at WFP in South Sudan.
WFP is working with the Ministry of General Education and Instruction to develop a policy that will guide how a national school meals programme is targeted, funded implemented, managed and assessed in South Sudan, Nyakato says.
In 2012, WFP conducted workshops to improve the skills of education officials, head teachers and food management focal points that run school feeding activities.
This year, the agency will work with the Ministry of General Education and Instruction to develop guidance and training materials for the implementation of the school meals programme.
WFP plans to provide daily school meals to 424,000 pupils and to provide a monthly take-home ration of cereals and vegetable oil to an additional 40,000 girls in 2013.
Food-for-education activities target areas where assessments show the highest levels of food insecurity and low rate of children going to school, especially girls.