In shocking news, it has emerged that most children in Haiti get only one meal and that too in schools.
More than 250 students have gathered in the two rooms of a small public school here, some 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the country's capital Port-au-Prince, waiting for a meal prepared by the World Food Program.
AdvertisementAcross this impoverished Caribbean island nation, more than half a million young Haitians rely on the school meals provided by the organization, often the only food they will eat all day.
"In the year since this cafeteria was established in this public building in Balan, the number of students using it has grown each month," said director Sauveur Noel, 66.
"In November we had numerous requests to register students. People know that since last year we have been feeding the children. So...," the director said with a smile, seated behind an old table in a room built of tin and planks.
Noel himself attended the school "a long time ago," and acknowledges that "today I should be in retirement but I've returned to serve my community and accompany the children of my village," he says.
A year ago, he appealed to the World Food Program (WFP) to bring assistance to the school, which had been all but forgotten by the government and abandoned by the community.
"When we arrived here, we realized immediately that it was important to help the school, but we insisted on a minimum standard of hygiene. We had a toilet and a kitchen built," said Nancy Exilas, a Haitian WFP official.
"Since we added the school to the program, activities have been restarted and the children have become more efficient," she added.
In hundreds of public schools and assemblies across Haiti, the WFP provides food rations for the youngest living in areas with significant food insecurity, like Balan.
When the food is ready, it is served in classrooms to the waiting youngsters, who happily dig into their portions of rice and beans with a sardine sauce.
In the courtyard, their parents get a portion of their own.
"I can assure you this here is where we eat, the WFP is our God here in Balan," said one woman, whose two children attend the school.
In the 1,400 schools where the WFP provides the crucial meals, food stocks could run out within weeks, leaving 530,000 students without meals in Haiti's primary schools.
The prospect has forced the organization to seek 13 million dollars (nine million euros) in funding to continue the program.
Parents and teachers agree that if the program were to stop, the results would be "catastrophic."
After the meal is served at midday, the students at Balan school get back to work.
In the school's two classrooms, students from all six classes are seated on wooden benches, some repeating mathematical formulas while others learn literart extracts written out on an old blackboard. Today, their bellies are full.
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