If you are seven years old, routine is very important. Things like regular meals, going to school, meeting your friends and bedtime are an essential pattern of daily life. There are special days and special treats, but in the end, it’s the dependability of the daily routine that keeps you feeling secure and happy.
It doesn’t sound like too much to ask for. Yet for some 400 million children around the world, it is something beyond their wildest dreams. These are the children who start each day feeling hungry and generally go to bed hungry at the day’s end. They may or may not get something to eat in between. Almost certainly, they will have spent a large part of the day working, maybe tending animals, fetching water or carrying out household chores. For over 100 million of them, school plays no part in their lives. And as a result, they will grow up to be as poor as their parents and their children will probably have no more hopes than they do.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. For one thing, there is more than enough food already produced in the world to feed everyone. Technological advances have made it possible to increase yields and develop strains of crops suited to the harshest conditions. We just need the courage and determination to provide people with the means to help themselves.
But in the meantime, we have to make do with food aid. In many parts of the developing world this is still the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Malnutrition starts in the womb; underweight mothers give birth to underweight babies. Malnutrition slows down and limits physical and mental development. And hungry children – even if they get to school – find it hard to concentrate and learn.
School feeding programmes, such as those run by the UN World Food Programme, have already made a huge difference to millions of children. The benefits are multifold. First, school feeding ensures that children get at least one nutritious meal a day and sometimes a ration to take home to their families as well. Second, a full stomach improves children’s ability to learn. And third, school feeding gives parents the incentive to send their children to school in the first place – and access to the education they need to make their lives better in the future.
In Iceland, as in virtually every other developed country, every child goes to school. There are 45,000 primary school children currently in the country. And the Government has now decided to donate the equivalent of each Icelandic child providing a daily meal to a child in a WFP school feeding programme. So 45,000 children in one of the poorest parts of the world will at least be assured nourishment and a basic education.
With so many poor and hungry children in the world, this may seem like a drop in the ocean. But if other developed countries, where all children enjoy the right to go to school, came up with similar initiatives, we would soon have enough to make a real difference for those that do not.