By Kulsoom Rizvi

Maimouna’s father already had one picked out for her. With limited access to food, he needed an extra hand in feeding his fifteen other children.

But when Maimouna started to bring her monthly take-home ration of 10 kg rice from school through Counterpart International’s Food for Education Program, her father had a change of heart.

Counterpart’s Food for Education program in Northern Cameroon (FFE), funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, works with local schools and organizations to help lift families out of poverty and improve education among children through capacity building initiatives, especially among girls’ in 150 communities.

So far, girls’ attendance rate in all 150 communities went from 6 per cent in 2012-2013 school year to 13 per cent in 2013-2014 school year.

In one of these communities, only 150 girls were going to school. Bibemi is a remote village in Cameroon that faces widespread poverty and limited access to primary education. By the 2013-2014 school year, EP Tam primary school in Bibemi saw a 250 per cent increase in enrollment with now 500 girls attending school.

Community-led campaigns and schools gardens

Maimouna is just one of the almost 14,300 girls and 57,200 family members in Cameroon who receives take-home rations when she attends school regularly. Girls who keep at least a 90 percent attendance rate are offered 10kg of rice per month. Take-home rations are an additional source of income for families and particularly useful during the lean season when food is expensive and scarce.

Counterpart’s local partner RECAMEF (National Network for the Education of the Girl Child) initiated door to door campaigns, mass media campaigns and focus group discussions to inform religious and traditional local leaders on how significant girls are to the development of their family, village and country.

“Beyond the economic benefit of sending girls to schools in order to receive the ration, we have begun to see changes in parents’ perceptions of education especially traditional rulers and religious leaders. We also noticed that the Student Mother Association leaders (SMA) take leadership and accountability roles in the distribution of take-home ration,” Desire Yameogo, Country Director said.

School gardening is a cornerstone strategy to ensure the sustainability of girls staying in school. Counterpart helped build the capacity of more than 1,000 Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and SMA members in setting up and running 146 school farms. Members received trainings on crop production, storage and harvest management to help them in running the school gardens. Crops include groundnut, maize, cowpea and rice.

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