Hot meals to help Haiti’s children recover from the earthquake
It’s 11 in the morning at National School of the Daughters of Dame Marie, a school in the small town of Dame Marie, on the western peninsula of southern Haiti. Two volunteer cooks are a little behind in preparing today’s meal for 307 school-age children.
Black beans are on the menu, which take a little longer to cook than normal. Add wheat grains, vegetable oil, spring onions and hot peppers to two steamers.
The students of this school, girls and boys, despite its name referring only to girls, benefit from the school feeding initiative of the World Food Program, which aims to provide the most vulnerable children with at least one cooked meal a day.
The school’s principal, Franesie Sylvestre, says that for many of these kids “this will be the only meal they will have today.”
The city of Dame Marie was affected by the earthquake, but the school was practically intact, apart from some cracks in the walls of the buildings and the collapse of the entrance door.
ONU Haiti/Daniel Dickinson
Impact of the earthquake
The most significant impact has been on the children’s parents, many of whom lost their farms or planting season due to the earthquake.
“They can’t grow food anymore,” says Principal Sylvestre, “so they can’t properly nurture their children. This is why this school feeding program is so important. It will give children the energy to continue studying and provide support for their parents. In the long run, that’s good for our community. “
This school feeding program was already in place before the earthquake that struck southwestern Haiti on August 14, killing more than 2,200 people. Another 12,700 were injured and key infrastructure such as bridges, roads, hospitals and schools were destroyed or damaged.
This school is just one of more than 1,600 where WFP is providing meals to some 344,000 students. In most, the initiative focuses on more than just providing a meal for hungry children.
ONU HaitíDaniel Dickinson
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has installed bucket basins on platforms outside each classroom to ensure that children learn good hygiene habits, such as washing hands before meals.
UNICEF has also provided books for the study of the French language, mathematics and other subjects, as well as desks where students can study comfortably.
“We have to take a holistic approach,” says WFP’s Maguelita Varin, “because if children don’t wash their hands and then eat, they can get sick. And if they don’t have books, they can’t study, even if they have eaten well.”
WFP’s school feeding program plans to expand to provide meals cooked with local products to almost 40,000 children in 190 schools in the three departments affected by the earthquake in Haiti.
The International Labor Organization (ILO) seeks to support among farmers in the area the cultivation of breadfruit, a nutritious and versatile food. Breadfruit is expected to become a staple of school meals, which, in turn, would support the local economy.
“This approach helps sustain the local economy and will encourage farmers to grow more crops,” says Maguelita. “Ultimately, it will help communities better recover and increase their resilience to future shocks.”
In the National School of the Daughters of Dame Marie, the food is ready and the students patiently line up to wash their hands before joining the queue to receive their hot meal. For many it is the first meal of the day and some are very hungry.
Back at their desks, they eagerly eat a generous helping of beans and wheat. They are too focused on food to waste time chatting, and the teachers know that they will be well fed and focused in the classes that follow.
ONU Haiti/Daniel Dickinson
WFP School Feeding Program in Haiti
The World Food Program’s school feeding program in Haiti, which reaches 344,000 schoolchildren this year, is funded by Canada, Education Can’t Wait, France, Switzerland and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The program in the National School of the Daughters of Lady Marie is funded by the USDA. Across Haiti, nearly 100,000 schoolchildren are reached thanks to USDA funding.