Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 November 2018:
Yesterday, Wednesday 28 November 2018, the U.S. Ambassador to Sierra Leone Maria E. Brewer delivered the opening statement at the launch of the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education School Lunch Project in the Town Field in Kabala, northern Sierra Leone.
President Julius Maada Bio attended the event and spoke about the project and his administration’s prioritization of children’s education.
Active since 2008, led by Catholic Relief Services CRS and funded by United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), the USA has invested over $37 million to provide daily, nutritious school meals to over 30,000 school children annually.
The project has improved school infrastructure, trained teachers and community members, and provided improved literacy materials and interventions.
For the next phase of the project, the USDA will invest a further $25 million to expand the provision of daily school meals to nearly 70,000 children and continue its infrastructure, training, and literacy components.
This phase will seek greater sustainability and local ownership, with the Government of Sierra Leone as an active partner, as it seeks to scale up a national school lunch programme.
Ambassador Brewer welcomed this development, stating: “The U.S. Government commends the Government of Sierra Leone for making education its flagship programme and for allocating start-up funding for the national school feeding programme.”
This latest USDA-funded project includes the direct donation of 7,000 metric tons of food from the United States, as well as financial assistance for complimentary activities.
USDA’s McGovern-Dole programme, active throughout the world since 2002, has benefited over 30 million students, parents and teachers. The primary objectives of the programme are to improve school attendance, especially among girls, reduce hunger, and improve literacy in primary education.
Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary School Education, Lawyer Alpha Osman Timbo, who chaired the event, said that access to free quality education was at the centre of President Bio’s administration.
The launching of the School Feeding Programme and its associated packages will tremendously add to the success of the Free Quality Education Initiative, he said.
The minister thanked representatives of the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the US-based international humanitarian organisation, and the United States of America for their continuous support to the government’s flagship programme.
Speaking on behalf of the people of Koinadugu and Falaba districts, Paramount Chief Member of Parliament, Honourable Alie Balasama Marah of Sengbe Chiefdom, thanked the government of Sierra Leone and its implementing partners for introducing the school feeding programme in the area. He said that this decision is testament to the fact that government is impartial and treats all regions equally in pursuing development across the country.
“This will go down in the history of this country, because contrary to every expectation the School Feeding Program has been launched in the northern part of the country, where some people believe it is not the political stronghold of the ruling party. This is a laudable venture,” said Paramount Chief Alie Balasama Marah.
The country representative of CRS, Paul Emes, described the launching of the School Feeding Programme as momentous, because this shows how serious President Bio’s administration is about building the human capacity of the country through universal access to education, he said.
“This day is momentous because it has ushered in an era of a new Sierra Leone where education will flourish. I am happy that the CRS is a part of this history-making trajectory,” Mr Emes told the people of Koinadugu and Falaba districts.
The CRS chief also noted that with support from the US Department of Agriculture, they will invest $25 million over a period of four years to the school feeding initiative.
He promised that other areas of need, including capacity building of teachers, rehabilitation of primary schools, construction of water wells and boreholes would also be part of the package.
US Ambassador, Maria Brewer, stated that the launch was an important milestone in strengthening the long-standing relationship between the two countries, adding that the US Department of Agriculture’s food for education programme has helped support education, child development and food security in developing countries since 2003.
“This programme aims at reducing hunger and improving literacy and primary education, especially for girls,” she said.
She commended the Free Quality Education Program, particularly the allocation of 21 per cent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product to achieving education for all Sierra Leoneans.
She also commended the CRS for its invaluable contribution to promoting education, and said that she looks forward to seeing a successful implementation of the programme.
President Julius Maada Bio thanked the government of the United States of America and CRS for joining him in ensuring that free and quality education reaches every corner of the country.
The president said that he was happy to be in Koinadugu to fulfil his promise of providing free and quality education, and to creating an enabling environment that would ensure the survival of the programme.
President Bio also noted that when he proclaimed to offer the free and quality education, he did not do so to gain political favour or to score political points. He said he did so because he knew that investing in the future of children was a right and an entitlement – and not a privilege.
“This School Feeding Program will encourage parents to send their children to school and it will also increase attendance of school going pupils,” he said, and called on parents and local authorities to embrace the initiative.
Source credit: USA government and Sierra Leone Government State House.