Project #14391

School Meals Help Children Learn, Grow and Thrive

by World Food Program USA

In the courtyard of the Musimi Primary School in Tanzania sits a 6,600-gallon water tank painted bright blue and white—the signature colors of the United Nations World Food Programme.

Nearby, a fallen log painted in the same colors bears the words: "Thank You WFP For Blessing Us With Clean And Safe Water."  

The school is home to some 996 boys and girls in 1st grade through 7th grade along with just two dozen teachers. Until 2013, boys and girls at this school began their mornings by walking nearly two miles each way to the nearest well and lugging back with them plastic jugs of water that could weigh as much as 20 pounds. 

By the time these boys and girls arrived at Musimi, most were exhausted; they usually made the trek on an empty stomach. Like the rest of their families, children in this rural area in central Tanzania used to eat one meal a day if they were lucky. 

That is, until WFP came along. In 2013, WFP helped construct this water tank and launch its school meals program, which has already boosted attendance at Musimi from 74% to 98% over the past two years. 

Since then, local parents have formed a school committee to talk about ways to improve their children's education. So far, they've built a covered dining hall so their sons and daughters can eat together in the shade and planted a garden in the courtyard that is flourishing, thanks in part to the nearby water tank, where students can walk right over and simply turn the spigot for cool, clean water. 


In a remote village called Chalinze in Tanzania, the boy pictured here is showing off his first invention. 

Using nothing but old plastic bottles, a stick and some string, this child crafted an ingenious toy car to race around with his friends and neighbors. 

This is the kind of creativity that good nutrition can inspire. Thanks to the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), this boy and his family are one of more than 250 households receiving enough food to survive and thrive.

Through an innovative Food For Work project, WFP has been working with the Chalinze community to construct more than 4 miles of irrigation canals in the drought-prone region. So far, the project has more than doubled the area's irrigated farmland, from 42 acres to 102 acres, allowing families like his to reap larger harvests. 

Something as simple as a toy car. This is what hope looks like.


3rd grad students in Zambia with Milk
3rd grad students in Zambia with Milk

There are numerous benefits that school meals have for the children receiving them, but they are also an asset to help impoverished or disaster stricken areas to recover and help build local economies. In 2003, WFP began a program that linked the harvests of local small scale farmers to the school meals program. These home grown school meals are a critical element in making sure that communities are building sustainable resources, because food is grown and consumed locally instead of being purchased and transported from other regions.

These home grown meals can also provide children with a more diverse lunch of fresh fruits, vegetables and milk, giving kids a higher quality of food to nourish both mind and body. In Haiti, for example, 20 dairies are providing fresh milk to 32,000 children in 84 schools twice a week in addition to their normal school meal of rice, peas, fortified oils and salt. Milk is an important staple in the Haitian diet, but many children, because of the cost of milk, often have to go without it. WFP works with Haiti’s dairy farmers to improve the quality of milk produced and once the milk meets with WFP’s rigorous standards, WFP purchases it from the farmers for around $2 a gallon.

The dairy farmers are grateful to WFP for providing a stable market for their product. “This is a great way for small producers like me to do business,” says Jean-Claude one of the farmers in Haiti who WFP works with. “It’s been a very hard year but at least dairy farmers around here have a secure market for their milk.” Purchasing food from local small-scale farmers and co-ops provides these farmers with a stable income and allows markets to emerge.

Home grown school meals have become a national priority for Haiti and with WFP’s help, the Haitian government is planning a fully sustainable school meals program by 2030. Other nations are seeing the value of home grown school meals; governments around the world are looking to Home Grown School Meals as having the potential to be catalysts for local economic growth and agricultural development.

In Zambia, where more than 860,000 children in 2000 schools receive a daily school meal, WFP uses Home Grown School Meals as a key element in addressing Children’s nutritional needs. Zambia has high malnutrition rates, which can permanently jeopardize the health and wellbeing of children if the problem goes unaddressed. Working with small scale farmers, WFP is helping these farmers grow fortified crops with essential nutrients for children’s health such as rich in iron, iodine, folate and Vitamins A and D. Because home grown school meals have the unique ability to reach multiple sectors in Zambian society, they have the potential to allow Zambia to improve agriculture, nutrition and education simultaneously.

School meals programs have been one of WFP’s cornerstone programs for almost 50 years. With the continued support of donors, WFP can reach more children and continue to expand sustainable programs, like Home Grown School Meals.


In 2013, 127,500 Schools receiving WFP assistance.18.6 million children are receiving meals in school or take home rations. 49% of all schoolchildren receiving WFP assistance were girls. Here is one mother's story of how school meals gave her family a brighter future.

Ti Marie, which means “Little Marie “in Haitian Kreyol, is a 56-year-old mother of two who lives in an impoverished part of the Turgeau neighbourhood in Port-au-Prince, where she is the sole caretaker for her children and grandchildren.

When the devastating earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010, Ti Marie lost her house and everything she owned. With no one else to rely on, she struggled to survive. Eventually, she made the painful decision to take her two children out of school and send them to work. Her daughter tried to make ends meet by cleaning the homes of wealthier families in the neighborhood, while her son polished shoes in front of a private school.

Ti Marie’s oldest grandchild was given to a wealthier family as a laborer, known in Haiti as a Restavek, which literally means "to stay with." Restaveks are often beaten, humiliated and forced to work exceedingly long hours. Haiti is home to one of the highest incidences of slavery in the world. After a day of housework, chidlren like Ti Marie's granddaughter usually spend the night sleeping on the floor. They are not allowed to play with other children in their placement family and the majority of them do not attend school.

Stories like Ti Marie’s are unfortunately all too common in Haiti. Vulnerable families, especially single women, often have to choose between their family’s livelihood and their children’s education. Working children also often face serious hardship and abuse, as well as missing out on school and a better future.

But last year, Ti Marie heard about a nearby government-sponsored school where students receive a free meal every day. She immediately went to meet the school's headmaster to make her case. Within days, her two children and grandchildren were enrolled in schools financed by the government’s Universal Free and Compulsory School Programme (PSUGO). These schools also benefit from the government’s National School Feeding Programme, which is supported by USDA McGovern-Dole program and implemented by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP).

“My life has completely changed,” says Ti Marie.” I used to suffer from high blood pressure because I could not sleep at night worrying where my children would get their next meal.”

She now serves as a member of the school's nutrition committee. 

“Next I want to enroll in the literacy classes provided by the church so I will be able to fully perform my task as a member of the committee ... I am trying to explain to my friends that sending my children to a school, which provides one meal a day, is a great relief for me. The little money that my daughter and I would have scraped together by working is now invested in rebuilding my house."

— Alphonsine Bouya/ WFP Haïti


WFP's School Meals

WFP’s School Meals Program encourages  education by giving families in developing countries incentive to put their children—especially girls—in the classroom instead of the workforce.

This year, more than 24 million children in 60 countries received daily meals and take-home rations through WFP’s School Meals Program. WFP also works locally with small-scale farmers to source these lunches, which create stable partnerships that strengthen local markets and self-sustainability.

In July, WFP expanded its Home-Grown School Meals Program in Kenya by introducing a four-wheel-drive vehicle and 60 motorbikes to improve the transportation of food. By bolstering accessibility and efficiency, WFP is also improving Kenya’s capacity to implement its own national program. This year nearly 50,000 children “graduated” from receiving WFP school meals to those provided by national programs. In 2013, El Salvador became the 38th country to take over WFP’s School Meals Program.

IN OCTOBER, WFP USA WELCOMED OLYMPIC RUNNER AND SCHOOL MEALS ALUMNUS PAUL TERGAT, who has traveled the world since 2004 as a WFP Hunger Ambassador. Tergat met with legislators on Capitol Hill, as well as local high school and college students, to talk about how the School Meals Program changed his life.


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Organization Information

World Food Program USA

Location: Washington, DC - USA
Project Leader:
Erin Wiegert
Washington, DC United States