It’s that time of year again! The ads on television announce blue light specials for notebooks, pens and backpacks. Kids rouse from their late summer slumber to the terrifying prospect of book reports not yet started and essays not yet conceived. Moms and dads rush around in double time picking up last minute items that will give their children that extra edge in the coming school year. By now you’ve guessed what time of year it is—back to school time.
Or better said, this is what back to school looks like in most of America. It is a very different picture in the vast majority of places where Food for the Hungry (FH) works in the developing world.
Let’s take northern Uganda as an example. Most poor families can only afford to pay the very meager school fees of a few dollars a week to send just one of their kids to school. When that happens, it’s usually the eldest boy who gets to attend school, while his sisters spend their days fetching water and firewood. Or the Ixil region of Guatemala, where those who are fortunate enough to be in school struggle with concentration and thus performance due to the fact that they are chronically malnourished. Such are the Back to School realities that these kids face every year.
The World Bank issued a report more than a decade ago that stated that the best possible use of funding in the developing world was to send a girl to primary (elementary) school until she finished the sixth grade.
The impacts of such an investment have proven to be broad-based and long-lasting. A girl who can read and write at a sixth grade level has been shown to be light years ahead of her non-student female peers in her ability to raise healthy and well-nourished children and generate substantial income for her household.
And we have seen this very impact occur in hundreds of FH child sponsorship programs. Let’s take a peek at a Back-to-School moment in one of our school programs in the field.
Boys, girls and their teachers play volleyball during a class break session in Mufumya Primary School in rural Burundi. Other children gather around the court to cheer on their teams at every strike of the ball. There is excitement in the air. Mufumya village is home to 4,000, with 800 of them being children attending the school, according to FH’s Patrick Nduwayo.
“Before FH came, there was a shortage of school materials, books and uniforms. People could not afford them,” says Headmaster Havyarimana Evariste. “Now, there is a modern building. The teachers have benefitted from training. The ‘stop AIDS’ clubs, hygiene program and sports have benefited us a lot.”
FH began Burundi’s Child Sponsorship program in 2007 and there has been remarkable growth since that time. In the first year of the program, only five people graduated from primary to secondary school. Now, over half the class of 60 is gaining entry to secondary school. A new classroom block is under construction and will go a long way in making learning conditions better. “Learning will be easier in the new building. The success rate will go higher,” Havyarimana says.
With about two thirds of Burundi’s population living under the poverty line, families are struggling to send their children to school. The government has made primary education free and compulsory, easing the burdens on households, but families still struggle to buy school materials and uniforms, and the school buildings are often nothing more than mud huts with thatched roofs.
Gahungu Jean, the last child in a family of six, is the only one in his family to have made it to school, thanks to the FH sponsorship program. “When I joined the program, I got school uniforms and I also got a goat. The manure from the goat was very useful in our small vegetable garden, increasing the yield.”
Nzeyimana Arda, is no different, being the daughter of peasant farmer. “None of my siblings had a chance to go to school,” she says. “FH support has played a great role in my life. I’ve received school materials and uniforms and I have never had to miss school.” She dreams of one day becoming a doctor. But even if she doesn’t make it that far in her schooling, she will certainly be among the growing number who have the knowledge and skills to raise healthy, well-nourished kids and to make a good living for their families.
As the Back to School flurry begins in your household, why not join us in helping one child in the world to go to school for the first time? It’s as easy as one click on our child sponsorship web page. And you’ll change a life forever!