With support from the World Food Program, Smile Again Africa Development Organization has expanded the food for education program to tackle low enrollment, attendance, retention and poor performance of primary-school age pupils in Juba and Terekeka, Central Equatoria state. The project is a three month program already being implemented in Juba, and soon to be active in Terekeka.
The program has been effective in other regions of the country. For instance in 2012, WFP, through the program, provided food to 488,000 primary schools across the country.
Education statistics, last year, put South Sudan among countries with the worst indicators in the world, despite increases in school enrollment over the past few years. UNICEF estimated that more than a million primary school aged children, mostly from rural areas, are not in school, while the few schools that do exist are not conducive to learning. Low rates of primary school completion and high gender, geographic and wealth disparities pose enormous challenges to the development of South Sudan.
By the end of 2016, 70 per cent of children aged 6–17 years had never set foot in a classroom. The completion rate in primary schools is less than 10 per cent, one of the lowest in the world. Gender equality is another challenge, with only 33 per cent of girls in schools.
Food insecurity has been a major factor hindering class attendance and performance of the primary school going pupils across the country. Health and sanitation have also been cited as key challenges.
The program is designed to attract school enrollment, improve attendance and keep pupils in school through distribution of food rations to schools in both Terekeka and Juba. This initiative has presented an opportunity to parents who cannot afford square meals for their children at home to send them to school.
“With the realization that school children absent themselves or drop out of schools due to the fact that they leave their homes for schools hungry and turn back home from schools hungry, SAADO, in partnership with WFP, are working hard to bring a solution to this problem by providing lunch to school children,” said Alleluya Chol, SAADO’s Technical Advisor for Education and WASH, adding that, “I therefore ask parents and the general public to try and persuade the children who dropped out of schools because of this factor or another, to go back to schools”.
The program expected to effectively reduce short-term absences and limit prolonged absences.
Since the program was activated in Juba this month, 33 primary schools have been targeted with dry food rations. The food includes yellow peas, sorghum, and cooking oil. Some 14 schools have already received their rations; the remaining primary schools are expected to be covered within this month.
“I am happy because we will are not going to be hungry in class anymore,” said Abdul-Rahman, a primary seven pupil in Buluk A1 primary school.
A total of 24,877 primary school pupils in Juba will benefit from this phase of the food distribution; 11,765 of whom are boys and 13,112 are girls. The number is expected grow as more pupils continue to enroll.
Once it becomes active in Terekeka, the program will target up to 5,238 primary school pupils. Beneficiaries targeted include 2,567 girls and 2,671 boys. Within the program there are is a training scheme to build the capacity of 48 members of the Parent Teachers Association (PTA) in the Food for Education program at school levels. Other 77 teachers will also be trained in thematic areas of the program.
The program will run until December 2017.