STAND UP

Interview with
William Lambers—editor of Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World

 


August 2009

 

William Lambers, editor of the new 2009 anthology Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World, discusses with RED! his compilation of interviews with officials from the United Nations’ World Food Programme about school feeding initiatives that fight child hunger.

 

 

Your interviews with innovators and key interventionists cover 63 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe, and the Middle East. How did you as an American become so deeply interested in world hunger and the major effort underway to combat it?

I was taking a graduate course at Mount St. Joseph in 2006 called the Spirituality of Leadership. In the class we discussed the situation in Darfur. This was around the time the refugees in Darfur faced a ration cut because of a funding shortfall for the United Nations World Food Programme. That same weekend I bought a book about the U.S. Food for Peace program. Within days, I was in touch with the U.N. World Food Programme and began writing an article.

Hunger is not something the news media cover very often. In a Social Influence class at Mount St. Joseph we used to discuss “What is the news?” Unfortunately, a lot of the media is missing the real news story of global hunger. If you watch hour after hour of cable news you will probably see nothing about global hunger. In the newspaper you may not find much either. Yet, hunger afflicts so many countries and their stability. It’s important that the media give much more coverage to this issue.

 

Because the severe food shortage in so many countries has actually increased in recent years, how has the World Food Programme (WFP) responded to this shortage?

The World Food Programme relies on voluntary donations from governments as well as the general public. With the number of people now impacted by hunger reaching over one billion, WFP is appealing for more donations so it can reach people in need.  But, funding is low right now and this is dangerous because it can force WFP to cut programs in various countries. In fact, some programs are being cut or scaled back.

What needs to happen is that food assistance programs be expanded at times of crisis, not cut back. The escalating food crisis of recent years inspired a number of groups such as the Friends of the World Food Program, Catholic Relief Services, Save the Children and others to put forth the Roadmap to End Global Hunger. It is now a bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 2817) that needs public support.

 

In gathering all this information about the fight against world poverty, what is it about schools needing to feed children that most surprised you?

What surprises me the most is that there is not a comprehensive global school lunch program in place. We have the McGovern-Dole Global school lunch program but this receives such little funding from Congress that most school lunch programs that apply for it are denied. WFP, World Vision, Mercy Corps, Catholic Relief Services and other groups apply for funding so they can run a school lunch program in a developing country.

The U.S. needs to take the lead in building a global school lunch program. Providing more funding for McGovern-Dole is a first step and then using that platform to reach out to more governments to coordinate the global effort. If Congress would pass the Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation (H.R. 2817) this might provide the opening for this to happen.

 

Many of your interviews cover both setbacks and triumphs of the World Food Programme. How has the WFP adjusted in recent years to improve its connection to countries where hunger among especially children is so rampant?

I should mention that implementing take-home rations as part of school feeding programs is a key part of WFP’s work. These rations provide further incentive for children to be sent to school and also benefit the families and communities they live in.

WFP also encourages local purchase of foods to be used in school feeding. For instance, in Benin they try to buy the food locally to be used in that country’s school feeding.

WFP is trying more and more to encourage local farmers to produce the food to be used in school feeding and other food initiatives. They do this by assuring the farmers there will be a market for what they produce. Under the Purchase for Progress program, they  provide them with tools like fertilizer, seed and agricultural technology to produce the food. With local purchases WFP saves on shipping costs and helps local farmers increase their earnings which in turn help the community.

 

How exactly do agencies such as Catholic Relief Services and ChildsLife International fit into the efforts to help hungry children? What has most impressed you about their efforts?

The World Food Programme is the largest food aid organization in the world but it certainly cannot tackle all the problems of hunger on its own. The charities like Catholic Relief Services and ChildsLife International play a major role in fighting child hunger. ChildsLife, for instance, is active in the Kibera slums of Kenya where they run the Stara School. When the violence in Kenya broke out in 2008 after a disputed election, it was ChildsLife who came to the aid of many people victimized by the hostilities. (See http://blogcritics.org/politics/article/kenya-violence-impacting-stara-school/ )

ChildsLife also partners with the World Food Programme to provide meals at the Stara School.

Catholic Relief Services has programs to help support school feeding. In Darfur, Catholic Relief Services helps the World Food Programme provide school feeding by building facilities like kitchens and storage rooms. This is for the schools so they can participate in school feeding.

It’s very important for the charities and organizations like WFP to have a coordinated effort to fight child hunger.

 

Certain countries like Cote d’Ivoire, the Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Somalia and many others have very sophisticated, school lunch programs that seem very connected to schools. Does the WPF have certain standards that countries must follow to be eligible for school lunch assistance?

WFP and the host governments have to work together to provide school lunch programs and move toward an ultimate goal of self-sufficiency. WFP encourages and works with the host government to build a national school lunch program.

WFP also encourages community participation in the school lunch programs. This is important for the country to ultimately run the program on its own. Of course, if a country is recovering from conflict, it could be some time before such an occurrence. In Somalia, WFP reaches out to the community to help store food for the feeding program or provide fuel or wood for cooking the meals. It’s a start on building the capacity to run school feeding on their own. In Zambia, WFP works with local communities to help provide porridge for school feeding.

 

What measures does the WFP take to make sure food actually gets to these schools and to the children? Are certain regions or countries at risk in receiving a reduction in food for their lunch programs?

WFP has offices for each of the countries they work in and sub offices as well. They coordinate logistics on how to get food to those in need. Field monitors help check on the programs.

In some cases extreme weather or conflict zones can make it difficult for WFP to deliver the food. For instance, in Darfur a number of drivers for WFP have been abducted. We’ve all heard about the attacks by Somali pirates on ships which sometimes carry WFP food. In these cases WFP has to partner with a security force to make sure the ship and the food reach land safely.  

Some WFP lunch programs have been cut because of low funding. To quote a recent WFP press release, “In Bangladesh, home to some of the world’s hungriest people, a WFP programme set up to give meals to 300,000 children in school will now reach only 70,000.” Another example is In Kenya, where there is also a threat of reduced rations for over 3 million people.

 

Very fascinating is that, in several countries in Africa, for instance, the WPF also helps out with health and wellness programs tied directly to nutrition. How big a role is the WFP playing in helping implement some of these other initiatives that exceed just helping feed people?

The World Food Programme partners with other organizations like the World Health Organization to carry out initiatives that do go beyond feeding. In Ethiopia, for instance, WFP helps to distribute the “Essential package” to students which includes de-worming and health and nutrition education. In Colombia WFP helps to improve hand-washing facilities as this helps to reduce the risk of children getting germs and also spreading sickness.

WFP’s Food for Work program helps build roads which are so vital to transporting food to communities. With WFP’s Food for Assets program, people are provided meals in exchange for their services on projects like building a road or a school. In this way, you not only fight hunger but develop skills and infrastructure that communities need to grow.

 

Are there any other specific countries or regions that are considered real models in the way they channel food to schools or communities?

Peru was one of the countries profiled in the book and it was a short interview because the WFP handed over the program to the government in 2003. That is the ultimate goal for a country to be able to provide its children with a national school lunch program, like we do in the United States.

In Ghana the WFP school feeding uses food produced locally and this is certainly a model for other countries. The ultimate goal in defeating hunger is for countries to be able to produce their own food and for their citizens to be able to access it.   

In the Philippines WFP supported school feeding has increased school attendance dramatically. WFP says that since parents are involved with preparing the meals, this helps improve their involvement with their children’s education.

You can see there is a positive ripple effect from school feeding.

 

As an advocate and writer, what do you think your own role will be in future, as you continue to monitor the WFP’s involvement in global school lunch programs?

I think my main role is to help increase the media coverage of global hunger issues, including school feeding. As a historian, I hope any insight I can reveal from the past will prove useful.

Right now it’s critical for people to support the Roadmap to End Global Hunger legislation currently in the House of Representatives. Calls, letters and e-mails are needed to your representative asking them to support H.R. 2817.  

For more information about this, please read my interview with Ambassador Michael Klosson of Save the Children in which he discusses the Roadmap.

 

 

 

 

School Lunches Program

Visit the Friends of the World Food Program for information about supporting the Roadmap to End Global Hunger.

For more information on Global Hunger and the World Food Program visit William Lambers' site at

www.lamberspublications.com.