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UNHCR uses food to boost class attendance in camps for Angolans

News Stories, 19 November 2009

© UNHCR/L.Taylor
A cheerful young Angolan refugee takes a break from classes in Zambia.

LUSAKA, Zambia, November 19 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency, with technical support from the World Food Programme (WFP), has embarked on a school feeding programme to increase classroom attendance and reduce malnutrition at two settlements for Angolan refugees in Zambia.

The programme was launched earlier this month in Meheba and Mayukwayukwa in north-western and western Zambia. The two settlements have a combined refugee population of about 25,000. Most buy or grow their own food, while WFP continues to assist some 3,000 of the most vulnerable.

The number of people still receiving food rations was cut from 15,000 last year to the current 3,000 in a bid to promote self-sufficiency among the refugees, many of whom have been living in the settlements for some four decades.

But UNHCR subsequently noticed a drop in school attendance as families weaned off the assistance sent their children out to help grow or search for food, rather than attend classes. Figures for 2008 showed total enrolment at 45-65 percent, depending on the time of year, and a drop-out rate of 10-25 percent.

There are currently some 3,500 children of school age in Mayukwayukwa and 5,500 in Meheba. But UNHCR figures show that only about 6,000 are regularly attending school. The aim is to ensure that all 9,000-10,000 children attend classes.

Under the programme, UNHCR has supplied stoves and kitchen equipment to 14 primary schools in Meheba and eight in Mayukwayukwa and will regularly deliver enough ingredients to provide one meal of porridge a day to 6,000 children. The programme is due to last six months but UNHCR hopes to find funding to extend this.

"We want to make sure all refugee children have access to education at all times and the provision of food will promote attendance at schools in the two settlements. This school feeding programme will also assist in improving the overall nutritional status of refugee children," explained Kristine Hambrouck, UNHCR's senior programme officer in Zambia.

"We have a lot of children coming forward," she said, while adding that drop-out rates were normally higher at this time of year, when the rainy season starts and there is little farming.

WFP has provided technical support, including the food procurement. It also facilitated the training of cooks from among the refugee community.

By Kelvin Shimo in Lusaka, Zambia

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Food cuts in Chad camps expose refugee women and children to exploitation, abuse

A funding shortfall has forced the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut food rations in refugee camps in eastern Chad by up to 60 per cent. As a result, Sudanese refugees in 13 camps in the east now receive about 850 calories per day, down from the minimum ration of 2,100 calories daily they used to get. The refugees are finding it difficult to cope. Clinics in the area report a significant spike in malnutrition cases, with rates as high as 19.5 per cent in Am Nabak camp.

WFP needs to raise US$ 186 million to maintain feeding programmes for refugees in Africa through the end of the year. Additionally, UNHCR is urgently seeking contributions towards the US$ 78 million it has budgeted this year for food security and nutrition programmes serving refugees in Africa.

In the meantime, the refugees experiencing ration cuts have few options. Poor soil quality, dry conditions and little access to water mean they can't plant supplemental crops as refugees in the less arid south of Chad are able to do. To try to cope, many refugee women in eastern Chad are leaving the camps in search of work in surrounding towns. They clean houses, do laundry, fetch water and firewood and work as construction labourers. Even so, they earn very little and often depend on each other for support. In the town of Iriba, for example, some 50 refugee women sleep rough each night under a tree and share their some of their meagre earnings to pay for a daily, communal meal.

They are also subject to exploitation. Sometimes, their temporary employers refuse to pay them at the end of the day. And some women and girls have resorted to prostitution to earn money to feed their families.

Ration cuts can have an impact far beyond health, reverberating through the entire community. It is not uncommon for children to be pulled out of school on market days in order to work. Many refugees use a portion of their food rations to barter for other essentials, or to get cash to pay school fees or buy supplies for their children. Small business owners like butchers, hairdressers and tailors - some of them refugees - also feel the pinch.

WFP supplies food to some 240,500 Sudanese refugees in the camps of eastern Chad. Many have been in exile for years and, because of their limited opportunities for self-sufficiency, remain almost totally dependent on outside help. The ration cuts have made an already difficult situation much worse for refugees who were already struggling.

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The ongoing violence in Sudan's western Darfur region has uprooted two million Sudanese inside the country and driven some 230,000 more over the border into 12 refugee camps in eastern Chad.

Although enrolment in the camp schools in Chad is high, attendance is inconsistent. A shortage of qualified teachers and lack of school supplies and furniture make it difficult to keep schools running. In addition, many children are overwhelmed by household chores, while others leave school to work for local Chadian families. Girls' attendance is less regular, especially after marriage, which usually occurs by the age of 12 or 13. For boys and young men, attending school decreases the possibility of recruitment by various armed groups operating in the area.

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Two million people are listed on Colombia's National Register for Displaced People. About half of them are under the age of 18, and, according to the Ministry of Education, only half of these are enrolled in school.

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