From Congress to Ethiopia: How U.S. Foreign Assistance Encourages Children to go to School
Last week, the U.S. House of Representatives debated five amendments which would have eliminated or drastically cut the U.S. budget for emergency food aid and the McGovern-Dole international school meals program. World Food Program USA (WFP USA) mobilized our supporters and helped ensure that these amendments were defeated.
Background on U.S. Food Assistance Programs
U.S. emergency food relief is provided through a program called “Food for Peace,” which was established almost 60 years ago. The program provides emergency food assistance for people whose lives have been turned upside down by natural disasters or conflicts. Last year, emergency food aid was given, through Food for Peace, to victims of the earthquake in Haiti and the floods in Pakistan. The McGovern-Dole Food for Education program promotes nutrition and education for some of the world’s poorest children through donations of food for school meals programs. As a result, enrollment and attendance rates have increased, particularly for girls.
The Importance of Advocacy
In response to the proposed amendments to end these programs, WFP USA engaged our supporters across the country and rallied a coalition of humanitarian and international development NGOs to maintain funding for Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole. We engaged grassroots advocates through action alerts and social media resulting in almost 2,000 messages sent to Congress urging members to maintain funding for these important programs.
The Beneficiaries of U.S. Hunger Programs
Seven thousand miles away from Washington, D.C., at the Goro School in Ethiopia, 12 year old Abdi Seyfu (who aspires to be a doctor) explains to a WFP worker that, “Early in the morning I like to wake up and go to school. During hunger time we don’t concentrate on learning at school. We move from village to village to find food. WFP is providing us different food so that we will concentrate on learning and don’t worry about hunger and everything else.”
One teacher in Ethiopia said, “My favorite part of the day is seeing these kids line up to receive a warm meal. For some of them, it’s the only real meal they’ll get that day. Kids come to school hungry, so the change I see after their stomachs are full is incredible. They become more energetic, their eyes light up, their smiles widen. My kids participate more in class when they’re not hungry.”
WFP Ethiopia Supported by U.S. Hunger Programs
In 2008, WFP provided school meals for 482,000 children at 915 schools in Ethiopia alone. In addition to meals, 68,000 girls received take-home rations for their families and the schools are engaged in community-based development activities. In Ethiopia, WFP’s school feeding program is supported locally by an initiative called Children in Local Development (CHILD). Assistance to Ethiopia is improving the livelihoods of millions of people and recent progress has resulted in a large decline in the number of food insecure people. WFP’s operation in Ethiopia would not be the same without U.S. support; in 2011, the U.S. was the top donor to the WFP mission in Ethiopia, contributing about $107 million.
The Road Ahead
Although the work of WFP USA and coalition partners was able to help protect Food for Peace and McGovern-Dole from elimination, both programs have still been subjected to cuts in the final House of Representatives budget proposal for 2012. Food for Peace was only allocated $1.04 billion (a 39 percent reduction from the President’s request of $1.69 billion) and McGovern-Dole was allotted $180 million (a 10 percent reduction from the President’s request of $200.5 million). Unfortunately, these cuts come at a time where hundreds of millions of people around the world are struggling with high food prices. For families in Ethiopia, high food prices are an additional burden for millions struggling due to recent drought. However, the Senate has yet to finalize its proposal for the 2012 budget and WFP USA is continuing to advocate for the need to maintain funding and reverse current cuts and the importance of these programs to millions of children like Abdi.
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