Dubai Cares, in partnership with Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN), recently inaugurated a pilot school feeding program supported by the Government of Bangladesh to improve the education and nutrition of children 5 to 11 years old from vulnerable families in approximately 45 schools in the capital Dhaka and in Mymensing District.
According to the latest national statistics, less than 65 percent of the approximately 20 million children of primary school age attend school and around 40 percent are hungry during their lessons. Good quality nutrition is critical for physical and intellectual development.
The program represents a USD2.5 million (AED9.2 million) commitment from Dubai Cares, a UAE-based philanthropic organization founded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and will be implemented locally with GAIN. The nutritious food that will be provided to the children will be prepared in 8 centralized cluster kitchens which will be operated by local leading civil society organizations BRAC and Banchte Shekha, as well as PRAN Group, one of the country’s largest food processing companies.
Speaking at a high-profile event to inaugurate the program, Tariq Al Gurg, Chief Executive Officer of Dubai Cares, said: “Much thought went into ensuring the effectiveness and long term sustainability of the program which, we hope, will allow future generations of children and their communities to enjoy the benefits of this program. This is another innovative program that will not only feed school children, but empower local communities as well, which will eventually help promote local economic growth. We hope this launch will be the beginning of the end of poverty, malnutrition and a start to overcoming the challenges that prevent children and their communities, here in Bangladesh, from enjoying a healthy education which will lead to more prosperous lives.”
“Today I smiled at the enjoyment and happiness I saw on the school children’s faces when they received the hot cooked meals,” said Ms. Angela Gomes, Magsaysay award winner and Founder Director of Banchte Shekha.
“It is a pioneering program, which has potential to set many milestones in the country. The commitment and leadership we have seen to date, from local mother’s clubs, school management committees, parent teacher associations, community food monitors and local government bodies are exciting,” said Dr Safiqul Islam, Director, BRAC Education Program (BEP).
“The school feeding model we are working to build with our partners has high potential to be replicated both nationally and globally,” added Marc Van Ameringen, Executive Director of GAIN, an international independent organization with a focus on nutrition, with its headquarters in Switzerland. “The cost-effective initiative will empower local civil society and marginalized populations, integrate different health sectors and give children the dignity they deserve through increased access to quality education and nutrition.”
The program will provide schools in rural areas with culturally appropriate nutritious and energy rich hot cooked meals (i.e. rice, vegetables and pulses cooked with fortified edible oil and salt). It will also supply schools in urban areas with both hot cooked nutritious meals and fortified processed foods. Foods will be sourced and produced locally and quality control measures will ensure food safety and quality.
BRAC and Banchte Shekha are responsible for the program’s implementation, including training of cooks and mothers in hygiene, monitoring of food quality and sanitation. PRAN Group, one of Bangladesh’s largest food processing organizations, will supply the appropriately fortified processed foods to schools. GAIN is providing management oversight, plus financial and technical support. The project will be overseen by high-level government representatives, civil society and the private sector.
By integrating cross-cutting interventions such as nutrition, sanitation, good hygiene practices (i.e. hand washing), and de-worming, as well as focusing on important themes that promote sustainability for example of community empowerment, gender and governance, the program is expected to deliver positive impact.
The program will provide important learning and best practices for national scale up.