“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The large, old truck rumbled and groaned as it struggled up the small hill to the school. There were probably a flood of prayers offered up between the twenty of us who sat on back as we gripped tightly to the railing, hoping that the diesel engine still had the power to make it up even this small incline. I glanced down as I felt the surface beneath me shift. Beneath our feet lay thousands of pounds of food, all stacked and ordered based on size, type, and where they were going to be delivered.
The engine, by this point, was screaming in agony as it pressed forward, straining against the weight it carried. Finally, just before it appeared it was going to give in and let gravity pull it back down to the bottom, the front wheels crested the hill grabbing what little traction they could. Soon after the middle and back wheels under the truck bed followed. Everyone started clapping and mocking the doubters, although in reality it was just a show to build up their own courage. After all, this was just the first school of the day.
It was the beginning of April and we were out delivering the World Food Program (WFP) supplies to the schools under Samaritan’s Purse’s oversight. The WFP vision, per their website, is “to reduce hunger among schoolchildren so that hunger is not an obstacle to their development (1).” In essence, their goal is to provide meals to primary schools in order to help keep the children in school. It is an incentive for the kids to keep coming if they know they will get at least one good meal a day and is especially important for critical areas where hunger and malnutrition are rampant. This is often the case in Eastern Congo as rebel groups often force people to move and flee resulting in little food security from gardens or even a consistent marketplace.
Samaritan’s Purse (SP) has partnered with WFP to serve in two localities helping over 100 schools. The remoteness of the Faradje/Aba territory where SP works has resulted in WFP giving SP complete control over the warehouse and distribution of the food. Food is delivered to the warehouse where SP staff takes control of it and enters it into the inventory. Then, during the first week or two of every month, distributions occur. At first it is possible to do several deliveries a day, but once the schools get more and more removed from the warehouse it takes longer to get to the locations and the roads get worse. The deliveries during rainy season, starting in mid-March, take twice as long as the dirt roads are destroyed by the rain making them rivers of mud where the trucks often get stuck.
Each school receives, in proportion to their size, bags of grain which are rice, flour, or corn, vegetables which are peas or beans, oil and salt. They also receive non-food items like cooking pots and plates at the beginning of the school year. Parents volunteer to do the cooking on different rotations depending on the school. Although these meals are simple and repetitive, they provide the essential nutrients for the young children and it is often their only meal of the day. This, as the WFP website states, “allows children to focus on their studies and not their stomachs (1).”Kids cheering on the work.
As the truck summited the hill we were welcomed by hundreds of kids running toward us yelling and waving. Each one was dressed in the classic Congo school uniform of white-collared shirts and navy blue pants or skirts. They knew that the truck meant another month of food and stemming from their excitement formed a fan group cheering on the men as they unloaded the supplies into the school’s storage room. It was a gentle reminder that often the things we take for granted, like school cafeterias, security, and even education in general are considered luxuries in other places.
1 – World Food Program – http://www.wfp.org/school-meals
2 – Samaritan’s http://www.samaritanspurse.org/
p.s. sorry if you’ve seen these pictures before, the internet decided it was not in the mood to upload pictures this evening