Charlotte Masiello-Riome, Senior Advisor for Communications and External Engagement at World Vision International.
I will never forget 2001. It was the year I met George McGovern, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations food agencies, in Rome. He had just returned from an intensive trip to evaluate innovative school feeding programs in countries such as Bolivia and Bangladesh. McGovern was the United Nations’ first global ambassador against hunger and worked tirelessly with the World Food Program (WFP) to design and implement school feeding programs in countries where children are most affected by malnutrition and hunger and to advocate for their funding.
For many years, McGovern and his team were my mentors. They walked me through the processes, challenges, and benefits of combating world hunger and promoting education through the development of school feeding programs. This time in my life left me with a deep belief that school meals are a “safety net” that protects children from economic and social crises.
WFP recently released its latest flagship report, The State of Global School Feeding in 2022, which provides an overview of the state of school feeding programs around the world and makes inspiring reading. Nearly 420 million boys and girls around the world receive meals in schools, 30 million more than in 2020. This means that the number of children participating in school feeding programs in 2022 will exceed the previous levels of the pandemic, and the possible Damage caused by school closures is being repaired. In addition, more than 90% of the funding for this recovery has come from domestic sources, and almost all countries have officially adopted national policies to ensure the continuity of these commitments.
We all know how difficult it is for children to concentrate and learn in class when they are hungry. Last year, together with WFP, with whom World Vision has worked for more than 30 years, we helped more than 14.3 million people—60% of them children—with food assistance, cash, and vouchers in 28 countries. In many countries where we work, a child’s school meal may be the only meal of the day, such as in Sudan, where the program is implemented Food for Education provides daily hot meals and take-home dry rations to girls and boys in 266 schools in East and South Darfur, reducing dropout rates and improving their nutrition.
Importantly, working on school meals has also brought huge benefits in terms of gender equality. By giving girls access to education and nutritious meals, school feeding programs can help them become agents of change in their communities. Educated girls are more likely to earn higher wages, marry later, and have fewer children.
Despite these results, discrepancies remain. In 2022, 60% of school children in rich countries received meals at school, compared to low-income countries where the figure was only 18%. This figure is 4% below pre-pandemic levels, with Africa recording the largest decline. The report also found that some low-income countries have been unable to rebuild their national programs and require additional assistance. Less than 10% of schoolchildren in eight African countries receive a free or subsidized meal.
Less than 10% of children in eight African countries receive free or subsidized school meals
George McGovern’s legacy as a school meal advocate is based on his unwavering commitment to the fight against poverty and malnutrition and his belief that access to nutritious food is a basic human right and an essential element of peace and global stability. As the largest implementing partner, World Vision continues to work with WFP and other partners to ensure school meals reach the most vulnerable children.
However, with the collaboration and technical assistance of United Nations agencies and civil society partners, national governments must take the lead in integrating school feeding programs into national development plans and budgets. National governments also play an important role in creating the appropriate framework for the establishment and development of such programs to ensure that all children have access to nutritious meals.