children in classroom in benin

Food for Education Fuels Village Futures

Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

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Amina Abdou, an 11-year-old in the poorer northern region of Benin, goes to school every day and dreams of becoming a diplomat—or maybe a journalist.

Moms help with CRS school meal program in Benin
Parents prepare and serve a nutritious daily meal for students in Benin. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

One reason she and millions of other students are at school is the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, which is funded by the U.S. government through the Department of Agriculture.

For students like Amina, the free, nutritious meal Food for Education provides is often the one and only meal of their day. Students are faced with multiple challenges to consistently attend classes, including pressure to work in the family fields. The meal is a strong incentive to stay in school. But there is a proposal in Congress about eliminating the program.

“Before the program existed, students wouldn’t come back to school after a lunch break, because we didn’t have the resources to provide everyone a meal,” says Allagbe Estelle, a teacher and principal at Amina’s school. “With school meals, there is higher attendance, and performance has improved.”

It’s not hard for teachers to imagine what would happen without it.

“No education, no nation,” says Allagbe. “We’re feeding the future.”

Engaging Parents

Student in classroom in Benin CRS school meal program
The Food for Education program is improving school attendance and literacy in Benin. Photo by Michael Stulman/CRS

As student’s line up under a pavilion in the village of Guene, parents serve the school lunches, encouraging their children to take advantage of an opportunity they were never afforded.

“If I were educated, I would speak French,” Moumouni Baké says through a translator. “But without education, I’m stuck.”

In addition to cooking and serving the school lunches, Moumouni also participates in a parent-teacher association. The association motivates parents to make financial and in-kind contributions to the school feeding program. Parents also get involved in school activities and share feedback on new curriculum that is transforming the quality of education.

“I’m doing all of this for our children. These students will be among those who find the solutions to challenges in our village,” says Moumouni.

For their part, the children have become important teachers to those who did not have the same educational opportunities.

“My kids share their lessons with me: Cover the food, wash your hands and keep the house clean,” Moumouni says.

These are lifelong skills made possible through hygiene education and improved water and sanitation facilities supported by Food for Education, and they are leading to healthier families and communities.

“Now sickness is away from us—not only my home, in all the community,” says Moumouni.

Supporting Local Resources

Despite their determination and tenacity, parents often struggle to make ends meet. With incomes of a few hundred dollars per year, it’s easy to see why the cost of school—books, pens and pencils, for example—can be unaffordable for many families in Benin.

CRS is helping organize local Savings and Internal Lending Communities groups, or SILCs, which help households save incrementally to meet pressing needs like school materials.

To date, there are more than 302 SILCs in Benin, with 8,167 members. Collectively, they have saved $374,149 and loaned $250,912 to date.

Food for Education has also helped establish school gardens, which supplement school lunches with community-grown food.

‘Everything you want’

Students won’t stay in school forever. Food for Education assists students and their families for only a few years out of their entire life, but the impact lasts a lifetime. Eventually, students use their educational foundation to get jobs or create jobs that contribute to the overall well-being of the nation.

“Everything you want in the world requires education,” says Amina.


Tags: education