By Josephus Blagaye from Nimba County and Judoemue M. Kollie
There are reports that donor funding for school feeding is gradually declining, thereby affecting enrollment in several public schools in Liberia.
School feeding is a social protection program that aims to improve enrollment in schools in the country.
The feeding program is being implemented by four partners including the World Food (WFP), Save the Children, ZOA and Mary’s Meals in collaboration with the Government of Liberia.
Those development partners still implement school feeding, despite the government’s commitment a few years back to take over the program.
According to sources, several public schools in Nimba County are said to have experienced low enrollment this year as a result of the absence of the feeding program. The program is being led by WFP in the county.
The reports said some schools whose enrollments are being affected include, the William V.S Tubman Elementary and Junior High School, Pearson Extension and the Child Friendly (also known as Francis Maweah) Public School elementary section in Ganta, as well as the Gblarlay Public School in Buu-Yao Administrative district, Nimba County.
The Vice Principal for Administration of the William V.S Tubman School in Kpain, Meinpea Mah District, Mr. Odexson Kolleh, told reporters that his school has experienced a drastic decline in enrollment.
He said since this school year, which is about to elapse, they have yet to receive any food ration.
Mr. Kolleh stated that the school recorded an enrollment of about 600 students for the elementary, but due to the absence of the program, the enrollment later dropped to 300 students.
“The program also helps the students to get adapted to their own locally grown food,” Kolleh added.
Kolleh asserted that the absence of the program has also affected the incomes of many smallholder farmers in the district.
He said that WFP usually buys locally grown food, such as cassava, potato greens, plantain and pepper, from farmers in the district to supply schools.
“Due to the lack of the school feeding program, farmers find it difficult to sell their farm produce for a good price.
Kou Suah, a local vegetable farmer in the district, said the school feeding program was helpful because it created access to better market opportunities.
“We used to sell our produce faster and at good prices. We would like for WFP to resume the program as soon as possible,” she said.
For his part, the PTA chairman of the school, Richard Domah, said the school administration was finding it difficult to contain the students on campus up to the Ministry of Education’s required time for students to go home.
“The food used to keep our children in school and remain on campus up to 3 p.m., whenever they see their pot on fire. But the absence of the program has caused more children to drop out of school,” Mr. Domah explained.
He noted that the administration and the parents are finding it difficult to maintain students on campus, especially kindergarten and elementary students who are direct beneficiaries of the program.
“Because of the food, kids are motivated to go school every day, even making them to end the academic year,” he stated.
Mr.Domah is, however, appealing to the WFP to resume the school feeding program.
The WFP school program targets about 49 schools across Meinpea Mah District.
Meanwhile, the head of Program at the WFP, Amos Ballayan, acknowledged that school feeding has not been implemented this year due to the lack of donor funding.
According to him, donor funding is declining, thus making it difficult to ensure sustainability of the program.
He also referenced the coronavirus pandemic as another factor that is hindering the program.
“In March last year, due to the pandemic, we only distributed ‘Girls Take Home’ rations. This was due to the closure of school as the result of the government’s restriction to contain the spread of the virus, Ballayan told our reporter in a mobile telephone interview.
According to the WFP head for program, his institution, however, has been involved in school feeding in Maryland and Nimba Counties.
He said due to the program in the two counties in the past years, school enrollment has improved greatly.
Ballayan added that smallholder farmers’ incomes have also improved through the purchase of their products for supply to the various schools.
He, however, said that plans are underway to resume school feeding soon in the targeted counties, but stated that the funding secured to carry out the activity is not enough.
“We depend on donor funding to get the program running and it is not forthcoming. We have secured funding for just two months at the moment,” he said.