Impoverished children with disabilities in the capital of Niger will receive two meals a day as part of a new one-year program to reduce malnutrition and keep kids in school, the U.S. Ambassador to Niger and Counterpart International announced on June 2, 2011.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the U.S. non-profit Counterpart, each month almost 1,600 people with disabilities – most of them blind – will benefit from the initiative.

At the launching ceremony, the US Ambassador Bisa Williams said, “This food assistance will certainly allow persons with disabilities to lead a more active and dynamic life…Such support is essential to eradicating poverty and to limiting the negative effects of begging. The American Government through USAID is proud to support this initiative in partnership with Government of Niger and Counterpart International.”

U.S. Ambassador Williams was joined by Niger’s Population Minister and the Governor of the Niamey Region at the launch of the International Food Relief Partnership program.

While most food assistance programs concentrate activities in rural areas, the International Food Relief Partnership will focus on urban poverty. Also unique to the program is the participation of two nongovernmental organizations – the National Blind People’s Union and Handicap Niger – serving and run by people with disabilities.

“This initiative is another example of how Counterpart works with communities to overcome obstacles facing the most disadvantaged,” says Joan Parker, President and CEO of Counterpart. “These children will stay in school, live healthier lives and contribute to their communities, regardless of their disabilities.”

Elsewhere in Niger, Counterpart is helping communities in the Zinder region to overcome food insecurity through nutrition, agricultural training and other activities through 2013. In the Diffa region, Counterpart has a one-year initiative that supports 24 health centers, education for pregnant and lactating women and the rehabilitation of 65 cereal banks. Both programs are funded by USAID.

“Food assistance is part of a broader strategy to get people through dire times, and while giving them the platform – in this case in the form of health and education – that will help them to withstand future food shortages on their own,” says Parker. “It is an honor to work with community leaders that recognize that each community is better off by having all citizens healthy, educated and engaged.”

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