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WFP Requests Help for Kenyan School Feeding Program - 2003-11-20

The World Food Program says it urgently needs $15 million worth of food to continue its feeding program in Kenyan schools. Officials fear hundreds of thousands of children will be forced to drop out of the primary school system if the program is cut.

The World Food Program sent out an appeal for 42,000 metric tons of food worth more than $15 million for the next year.

The School Feeding Program supplies one hot nutritious meal a day to more than one million school children in Kenya. Most of these children live in arid and semi-arid parts of the country, and the meal is the only food they get all day.

Children in those parts of the country would normally stay away from school to look after animals, pick wild berries, or perform other types of work that would bring in food for the family.

World Food Program spokeswoman Katharine Hodgson says the feeding program takes the pressure off children and their families, and frees up the children to go to school.

"Food is a key incentive without which several hundred thousand children may have no choice but to drop out of school altogether," she said. "Many schools may simply be left without pupils and be forced to close their doors. It also benefits the family as well because the families do not have to go and look for the food for that child. If they have got four children in school, that is four meals that they do not have to worry about."

World Food Program officials say the U.S. government's Global School Feeding Initiative has not pledged funds for the upcoming year. They say that, and the lack of commitment from other donors, could mean the end of the program.

Ms. Hodgson says she does not know why the donations have dried up. A spokesman for the U.S. embassy in Nairobi could not provide any information on the U.S. funding for the program.

Kenyan officials are worried the possible cancellation of the school feeding initiative might make it difficult for the Kenyan government to achieve its goal of providing primary education for all the country's children.

They also fear the country will not develop if children in poor areas stay away from school.

The headmaster of a 671-student primary school in the Baringo District of the Rift Valley, Mark Lomariwo, says if it were not for the feeding program, which has been operating in Kenya since 1980, he would not have gotten an education.

"There at home, there was no food," he said. "At home, we lost our animals. My mother died. My father was old. I saw people going to school. I went there because one thing I was sure to get was food. So I joined. I continued. Now I am a teacher."

Mr. Lomariwo says his area and others like it will stay poor and remain vulnerable if children do not go to school.