$27-M UN food program aims to improve children’s learning performance

The program was launched Saturday here with Nileema Noble, United Nations Development Program resident country representative, presenting beneficiary
children from Upper Taviran Elementary School in Kabuntalan, Maguindanao in a ceremonial launching witnessed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“Upper Taviran is just one of hundreds of elementary schools in the region that will receive the program’s take-home rations to boost student enrolment and combat high drop out rates,” Noble said.

The take-home rations will be given to some 170,000 children while 20 percent of the schools will also receive mid-morning snacks of nutritious corn-soya blend, oil and sugar, she added.

She said the food program will also provide nutritious meals to 18,000 children in day care centers, 85,000 mothers and young children attending rural health clinics and rations to 150,000 participants in food-for-work and food-for-training projects.

The projects aim to improve food security as well as, improve livelihood and self-reliance in the long term.

According to a project briefer, only 33 percent of children in Mindanao complete primary school as compared to 67 percent in the rest of the country.

Various assessments show that 40 percent of parents do not send their children to school and lack of food is cited as a contributing factor.

Local governments which supported the program include the provinces of North
Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat.

The 1-year UN food program also generated the support of the Moro Islamic
Liberation Front, which asked the world body to coordinate the project with
the rebels.

Mohagher Iqbal, MILF chief peace negotiator, said the food program in
conflict-affected areas of Mindanao must be coordinated with the Bangsamoro
Development Agency, the rebels’ development arm.

“[Coordination with the MILF’s BDA will] give more relevance to its ongoing
peace process with the government and to prevent any interruption on the
ground,” he said.

“We welcome this development and the UN food aid will surely help a lot of
poor people in conflict-torn areas in Mindanao. It will provide the much-
needed humanitarian assistance to many poor Muslim communities. The MILF is
willing to take part and help the UN and the government undertake this noble
cause. We have gone a long way and the peace process is now bearing fruits
and we are optimistic to sign a peace deal with the government that will
bring long and lasting peace to everyone in Mindanao,” he said.

He said that while the peace talks are going on, the MILF would be willing
to help the government start rehabilitating Mindanao through the BDA.

Both parties agreed in 2002 to the formation of the BDA, a body tasked to
implement all rehabilitation and development programs in conflict affected
areas in Mindanao. (MindaNews)