Liberia: WFP, Ministry of Education Take-Home Rations Essential in Helping Schoolchildren Study at Home and Remain Safe from Coronavirus

Parents in line to receive their children’s school feeding take-home rations in Nimba County // Photo- @World Food Programme/Johnson Kolubah

Monrovia – Innovative approaches in the provision of school feeding, such as students’ take-home rations, proved to be an effective way of keeping schoolchildren in Nimba and Maryland Counties safe while reading and reviewing their lessons at home when schools were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Government of Liberia and the World Food Programme (WFP) provided food packages of rice, oil, and beans in April 2020 and June 2020 to support over 90,000 schoolchildren from kindergarten to grade six to continue their learning activities.

For Theresa M. Jarteh, 42, a teacher at the William R. Tolbert Elementary School in Saclepea, Nimba County, the school closures meant a loss of face-to-face classroom activities, but not home-learning where children studied under the supervision of their parents.

Mrs Jarteh recounted how the take-home rations were visible in the narratives that the children, parents, and teachers are now telling. “There are lots of testimonies of the wonders that the take-home rations played in helping our children to not only keep studying but to also stay at home and avoid the perils of catching the virus”, said Theresa.

She is hopeful that take-home rations will continue in 2021 due to the surge in enrolment, as more parents are encouraged to send their children to school to bring home the transformative monthly rations. “The food is a big encouragement for parents to enrol more students than before because when you have two or more children bringing food home, your worries to feed the family reduce seriously,” Theresa explained.

In March 2020, Liberia confirmed its first case of COVID-19. The resulting national state of emergency led the Ministry of Education to announce indefinite closures for all schools, including elementary, secondary, and tertiary institutions. It also meant that the over 90,000 students benefiting from the WFP school feeding programme stayed at home.

Prior to March 2020, WFP and the Ministry of Education provided school meals to more than 90,000 students in Nimba and Maryland Counties making the school feeding programme one of the largest social safety net programmes in the country. A key component of the WFP “saving lives, changing lives” strategy, school feeding provides multiple benefits for the development of Liberian children. School feeding boosts school enrolment and attendance, improves classroom participation and retention, discourages school dropouts, prevents school-time hunger among children, and lessens the financial burden of lunch money on parents.

In Liberia, WFP and the Ministry of Education have been providing daily hot meals to  students in kindergarten through grade six, and monthly take-home rations to girl students in grades four to six to encourage the enrolment of girls in a country where boys are traditionally sent to school over girls.

The WFP strategy to provide take-home family rations to both girls and boys during the COVID-19 school closures was successful and became an impressive game changer for teachers, children and parents, said Naomi Harris, 32, a parent and mother of three children who also benefit from school feeding in Nimba County. “It helped us and was so good for the family. The other children in the house and our neighbours’ children who were also not going to school benefited because we shared the food with them. Getting enough food then was hard”.

She continued, “When the school feeding food came, some families organized study classes with children sitting far apart. The food encouraged the children to remain at home to study instead of passing around looking for mangoes or anything they could find for their stomachs”.

“As a parent, I am today happy because my son who was a beginner and could not write his name is now writing his name. I only hope that more WFP take home rations will come because the first one helped us and our neighbours, and it united us”, said Naomi.

Patience Charpea, a grade four student at the W.R. Tolbert Elementary School in Saclepea, Nimba County remembers the take-home ration distribution in April 2020. “It helped me to study because when we got the food the entire family used it including my little brother and sister. I used to study English and science more as my best subjects. The food gave us the strength to read, write, spell, and do math also. Because of my home study last year, I am now making better progress in class”, said Patience.

She also has a vision, “I want to become a nurse to help sick people get well. When I become a nurse, I will remember the take-home food and will tell my patients and children the story”.

Mr. G. Markson Pewue, the Ministry of Education School Feeding Coordinator in Nimba County, lauded the WFP take-home rations as a unifying force for the family. “Families of primary school students in 301 schools in Nimba benefited from the WFP take-home rations in April and June 2020 during the COVID-19 school closures. Parents were involved in ensuring their children remained close to their lessons, reviewing notes and listening to Ministry of Education radio reading programmes”.

He expressed optimism for more student enrolment in 2021. “If the provision of WFP take-home rations continue, both parents and students will be attracted to the schools, thus increasing school enrolment and retention as well as increasing parent’s involvement in their children’s education”

In early 2021, WFP will provide 1,000 schoolboys and girls with a commodity voucher or mobile money with a transfer value of USD 15 that will support access to locally available, nutritious foods. Throughout 2021, WFP and the Ministry of Education will provide school meals to 90,000 students through cash-based transfers, take-home rations, and on-site school meals.