Free school feeding brought back over 500 girls to school in Yemen

With the acute lack of resources caused by the war in Yemen, a growing number of families are forced but to take their children out of school. Girls are often sent away to marry at ages as young as 13. However, one school in the capital Sana’a found a modest, yet effective, form of relief.

The NGO Solidarios sin Fronteras (based in Spain and Yemen) run almost entirely by volunteers and funded primarily by individual donations — some as small as one euro per month—, has started to provide a complete breakfast for this school’s girl students, who are aged six to 16. Before the project began, one-fifth of them had been absent. Little by little, they started to come back and, since September 2018, all 525 students are regularly attending classes, Solidarios’ founders say.

We spoke via Whatsapp with two of the NGO’s founders, Eva, who is in Yemen. They told us about how their project “Breakfasts to educate and protect” came about. They also asked us to not disclose their full names or the name of the school for security concerns.

In March 2018, one of the school’s teachers reached out to Faten about an 8-year-old girl who seemed to grow thinner and more exhausted by the day. Suddenly, she stopped attending school. She had not been the first to quit, but she was the youngest. The teacher talked to the family: they were in extreme financial need and had received offers to marry their daughter.

When speaking with Faten, the teacher wondered whether a daily food ration could motivate families to keep their daughters in school. And the idea was born. Faten says:

Most of [these girls are] daughters of workers of the textile factory, which was completely destroyed [in the bombings]. The families haven’t [had any] salary for 3 years. How could they cover food expenses? […] The most important thing is that we’re supporting them to complete their education. Their families [are also] happy, as keeping them at school prevents them from staying at home or getting married at such a young age.

In March 2018, the United Nations declared the humanitarian crisis in Yemen the worst in the world. With raging unemployment and inflation, 80 percent of the country’s families are in debt and 65 percent struggle to buy food

Solidarios sin Fronteras consulted with a pediatrician to design the breakfast’s menu. Faten shops for groceries every morning and a married couple uses her kitchen to prepare, pack and transport the food. During a 45-minute break at work, she rushes to the school to help the teachers distribute the meals. Sometimes, her siblings come to help out, too.

In Nigeria, the federal government has a school feeding programme which is yet to reflect on the numbers of children in school in three years

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