Since 2008, Counterpart’s school feeding program in Cameroon’s North West and North Regions have proven that serving free meals and take-home rations to children at school leads to higher student enrollment and retention, especially among girls. In the 2014-2015 school year alone, student enrollment increased 26 percent (35 percent for girls) at schools participating in Counterpart’s school feeding programs.
Results like that can’t be ignored. Teachers have noticed, parents have noticed, communities have noticed and now the government has too. This month, Counterpart helped the government of Cameroon organize a national forum gathering more than 150 leaders from the education community and other sectors to finalize a draft of a national school feeding policy. Experts provided their feedback on the draft policy and developed an action plan to guide the Cameroon’s Ministry of Basic Education in launching a three-year school feeding pilot program.
“This policy will ensure a national school feeding program and the feedback from this forum will provide the Ministry with an operational action plan to implement our country’s policy,” said Minister of Basic Education Youssouf Hadidja Alim.
“It is an important milestone in the development of a sustainable national school feeding policy,” added Counterpart Country Director Desire Yameogo.
The government is expected to launch the national pilot program as early as 2016. The government’s commitment to school feeding, reflected in the policy, ensures the sustainability of school feeding programs fostered by Counterpart and expands the program nationwide.
The development of a national policy forum was inspired by the success of a regional forum organized by Counterpart in 2013. The forum convened 71 representatives from government, civil society, the private sector and local councils in the North Region of Cameroon to educate participants about the importance of school feeding and gather their feedback to help develop an initial draft policy on school feeding.
Looking at the impacts of Food For Education program
Counterpart also helped develop the school feeding policy through the coordination of advocacy forums, which provided 150 government officials (including municipal councilors, parliamentarians and traditional leaders) with information on how school feeding programs contribute to the health, hygiene, literacy and overall education of school-aged children.
“School feeding is a social safety net for children living in poverty and Counterpart’s approach is being seen by the government of Cameroon as an accelerator of educational achievement,” said Counterpart’s Stephen Chia.
“Counterpart’s results, in collaboration with our partners, provide a unique niche for Cameroon to achieve the country’s goal of ‘education for all’ if scaled at the national level. Our involvement in the development of a national policy for school feeding ensures that school feeding activities – with an emphasis on education – will continue in Cameroon for years to come,” added Chia.
Counterpart’s McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Project in Cameroon is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). In just the last two years, the program has served more than 34 million hot meals and take-home rations to students and their family members. More than 500,000 students received the nutrition needed to keep focused in school, and student enrollment rates soared.
The program has also trained teachers, school cooks and Parent Teacher Associations to cook healthy meals. Most significantly, the program has generated increased community involvement in caring for the education and health of their children. More than 150 school-based community gardens are now managed by adults to supply schools with fresh produce. In school hand-washing behaviors are now being used at home, increasing this critical sanitation step in homes by more than 40 percent.
U.S. Embassy representative Merlyn Schultz emphasized this broader impact when speaking with Joan Parker, Counterpart’s CEO. “I am especially pleased with the program results in terms of parent engagement. This is as important as a bag of rice,” said Schultz.