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Helping Syrian refugee children with school meals

Jul 10,2015 - Last updated at Jul 10,2015

There is a silent crisis unfolding every day in Jordan and throughout the Middle East. It is another devastating effect of Syria’s civil war.

Syrian refugees are falling deeper into hunger. Children are suffering the most, being forced to work and beg to provide for their family.

We can do something to help them. One positive step would be distributing food to children at schools.

Here is why we need to implement this child-feeding programme right away. 

The UN World Food Programme reports that 86 per cent of Syrian refugee families living in host communities in Jordan are either food insecure or vulnerable to food insecurity, a 36 per cent increase since 2014.

This escalating hunger has created a negative domino effect. Children are suffering the most.

A new UNICEF/Save the Children report says: “In Jordan, 47 per cent of refugee households say they rely partly or entirely on income generated by a child.”

 In Lebanon, children as young as six are being put to work. That is how desperate Syrian refugee families have become.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP), which provides aid to Syrian refugees, is so low on funding it scaled back assistance.

 So in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and throughout the Middle East there are Syrian families forced into awful situations in order to survive.

Hungry children are also losing their basic right to education. They are forced to drop out of school.

It was reported that in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley many children are unable to read or write.

In Jordan there are alarming reports of children suffering from health problems at work.

A father in northern Iraq says: “My children used to go to school and now I’m seeing them killing themselves, working from 8 in the morning till 9 at night, and coming home exhausted.”

What can the international community do to help?

A food distribution plan, taking place at schools, should be started to help children.

A school-feeding plan would encourage children to enrol again in school and attend classes.

Free daily meals, breakfast and lunch, would be given to the children. For when school is not in session, take-home rations would be provided.

The school-feeding plan would encourage children to attend classes and keep them away from child labour or other dangerous situations.

School feeding would improve children’s nutrition and get them learning again.  These school-feeding projects showed dramatic results in the past under difficult circumstances.

During and after World War II, school feeding saved and changed the lives of millions of children. 

WFP has some limited school feeding already in Jordan and Egypt for refugee children. Some school feeding is also available in Syria, in areas where there are high levels of displaced persons.

This project could be dramatically expanded with the support of the international community. It should include all Syrian child war victims.

We can make this happen, if we have the will as global citizens. It might just be the one thing that can ultimately save the region from Syria’s civil war and build a future of peace.

As WFP Director Ertharin Cousin said, “if we fail to provide the school meals which bring children back to school and keep them in school, we will miss the opportunity to teach them different lessons than this conflict teaches.”

 

The writer is an author who partnered with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) on the book “Ending World Hunger”. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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