School feeding is an essential component of the Liberian government’s efforts to improve the education, health, and nutrition of school-age children.
However, the program remains donor funded with no or limited budgetary input from the government, creating serious challenges when donor funds run dry.
Save the Children, one of the champions of the nation’s school feeding program, on June 2, launched a US$25 million school feeding project, aimed to improve the education and nutrition of school-going children within the country.
The program was launched in collaboration with the Liberian government, through the Ministry of Education. The Liberia Empowerment Through Attendance, Reading, and Nutrition (LEARN) Project - Phase two, will be implemented by Save the Children, Mercy Corps, and Kawada Farms in collaboration with the government for five years.
It is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), McGovern-Dole Food for Education, and Child Nutrition.
According to SAVE the Children, the new phase of the LEARN program is meant to improve the literacy of school-age children, increase the use of health, nutrition, and dietary practices as well as improve the effectiveness of food assistance through local and regional procurement for 234 schools in four counties, including Grand Bassa, Rivercess, Grand Gedeh, and River Gee.
Education Minister Prof. Ansu Soni launched phase two of the LEARN program at a local resort in Monrovia, on behalf of the government.
He said that school feeding goes beyond feeding students because it is about making sure that students have the opportunity to learn to prepare them for the future.
“This truly requires positive action despite the challenges because we are talking about preparing the leaders for tomorrow,” he said.
According to him, the school feeding program is an indication of some of the things the government has achieved for education.
He praised the international partners for their commitment to continue to assist the country in the area of school feeding.
The minister said he was pleased that the second phase of the program placed emphasis on the purchase of locally produced commodities to feed the students.
According to him, the program is important to develop the skills of the students, through the school gardens.
Though he promised to work with the partners to make the school feeding program a success, he did not disclose any sustainable plans of the government should the program be phased out.
Also speaking during the program, the Deputy Agriculture Minister for Regional Development Research and Extension, Dr. George Forpoh, expressed his ministry’s commitment to work with the partners to promote school gardens in the various counties where the program is being implemented.
According to him, his ministry will continue to support farmers with all of the needed resources to make sure that the home grown program works accordingly.
The Chief of the Party of the LEARN program, who is also the country director of Save the Children, Dina Rakotomalala, recounted the significant impact the program has made in the country.
To date, she said, LEARN has provided over 10 million nutritious school meals to over 45,000 school children.
“After a successful implementation of the project 3 years ago and 10 months later, the same stakeholders have gathered to launch the second phase of the project in order to continue to empower the nation of Liberia through improved attendance, reading and nutrition,” she informed stakeholders during the launch of the program.
The launch program was graced by some top government officials, county education officers and members of the private sector.
Madam Rakotomalala said during the program that there are many concrete successes of the LEARN project, which her institution even envisages to exceed, despite the known and unexpected challenges both globally and domestically the program may encounter.
She stated that regarding the expected estimated outcome of the program, which is to improve literacy of the students, leverage on complementarity with other U.S. government funded initiatives proved to tremendously contribute to capacity building of the Ministry of Education.
“The LEARN program continued its strong collaboration with USAID’s Read Liberia literacy project to promote improved teaching approaches and provide early grade reading materials to 59 schools in the project areas.”
She said through the program, 164 teachers and principals and regional educational staff have been trained in the Read improved approaches to education.
According to her, with schools being closed due to COVID at the beginning of the year, the team worked with community radio stations to promote literacy and language development.
“The project also works with mobile phone networks to send SMS messages to beneficiaries on positive discipline techniques, safe and positive learning environment, and COVID prevention awareness,” she explained.
“The project distributed 1500 home learning packets including home learning tips, short stories, and worksheets as part of ways to reach children who could not attend reading clubs during school closures. As schools began reopening, the program team continued its joint work with the Ministry on early grade reading, working with regional education staff to supervise the teachers,” she added.
Madam Rakotomalala said the occasion was meant to celebrate the achievement and renew the commitments to build them by reaching 85,129 pre-primary and primary children, 176,958 direct beneficiaries and 361,402 indirect beneficiaries over 5 years.
She said for that purpose, the consortiums Save the Children, Mercy Corps and Kawadah Farms express their dedication to make the best use of the US$25 million donated by the United States government.
According to her, LEARN is determined to leverage on combined contributions to deliver quality education through six cohort activities such as literacy focus, education reinforcement, school health and nutrition champions, school health clubs, school gardens, local regional procurement and base package, whose core activity is school feeding support by community engagement.
For his part, Kokpor Daynuah of Kawadah Farm, a local partner of the program, said his institution is pleased to discover that the school feeding program shall prioritize home grown school feeding. He said this will help more farmers to find a market for their produce to improve the agricultural sector.
Kawadah Farm is a locally based food processing company located in Ganta, Nimba County.
He promised his institution’s commitment to make sure that the program becomes a success.