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FEATURE STORYFebruary 1, 2023

Battling Hunger and Ensuring Yemeni Children Can Get Back to School


Do you remember a day when you left your school lunch at home or had no time to eat breakfast? Some children in Yemen experience that every day, not because they forgot their lunch or slept in, but because there is little or no food at home.

“One day at school I was so hungry and exhausted. I tried to put up with the hunger pangs, but it was just too hard,” says Salman Mohammed, an 8th grader in Marib City. “My classmate asked me why I was not writing anything, and I simply said that ‘I was not in the mood’. I did not want him to know that I was hungry so that he does not offer me anything. I did not want to go to school!”

In countries marred by conflict and the resulting economic downturn, going to school is a daily struggle for many children and their families. Beyond the immediate effects of hunger are the long-term consequences of a disrupted education both in terms of a country’s economic and human potential.

More than 2.4 million school-aged Yemeni girls and boys are out of school, and about 8.5 million primary school-aged children need humanitarian assistance. About one-third of the population in Yemen needs food assistance and clothing. Food and other school-related expenses prevent many families from sending their children to school. Additionally, about a third of all education facilities have been damaged or destroyed.

"Education is critical to unlock children’s potential and shape a brighter future for them and their country. It's an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty and conflict. Our education project is an investment in the future of Yemen"
Fatimetou Mint Mohamed
Tania Meyer
World Bank Country Manager for Yemen.

The objective of the Restoring Education and Learning Project (REAL) is to improve access to education and improve conditions for learning in Yemen. The project provides a school package to over 1,100 schools across Yemen that includes four key elements that are crucial for enrollment, attendance and learning: (i) performance-based teacher payments and teacher training; (ii) distribution of learning materials and school supplies; (iii) rehabilitation of school infrastructure, including WASH; and (iv) school feeding. The project is jointly funded by International Development Assistance (IDA) and the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), and it is implemented in partnership with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the World Food Programme (WFP), and Save the Children, in close collaboration with Yemen’s Ministry of Education.   

The REAL project reaches almost 600,000 children across seven Yemeni governorates. It targets the most vulnerable districts, especially in areas that host many displaced people.

The school feeding program under REAL provides children with a nutritious midday school snack of date bars or high-energy biscuits. The snack is enriched with micronutrients and vitamins, to address children’s needs throughout the long school day. Providing a snack in class is an incentive to get children back in the classroom.

Salman says his school days are a lot better than they used to be: “I am excited to go to school early to receive my snack and fill my tummy, and study well.”

“In Yemen, where the conflict has caused widespread disruption and devastation, too many children are left out of school and too many children leave primary school unable to read a simple text. Education is a necessity. It is the only way to empower the next generation with the skills, knowledge and hope they need to build a better future for themselves and their community.” said Almedina Music, Task Team Leader for the REAL project.


“The impact of school feeding in Yemen simply can’t be understated. Millions of children here don’t have enough to eat, and hungry children struggle to learn and grow and thrive. This jeopardizes their chance at a healthy and productive life. The school feeding program is a game changer, giving children the calories and nutrients, they need to concentrate in class, to do well in school, and a shot at a bright future.” Says Richard Ragan the Yemen country director at World Food Programme.

The World Bank REAL project also finances the healthy kitchen program, reaching 4000 children in poor neighborhoods in Aden with freshly prepared meals.

Erteah has worked at the school feeding central kitchen since its launch in 2020 and her children are back at school.

“The war has affected us all. It affected the rich, the poor and everyone. It was difficult to send my children to school because of the cost of food, breakfast, transportation fees and stationery. Most of the time I couldn’t afford them, which forced me to keep them at home. My children used to ask me whether I have some work in the coming days so they would know if they would eat lunch. And if I didn’t have any work, I told them to sleep and when I tried to wake them up, they wouldn’t because they knew there was no food,” she says.

She added “In the beginning when I was cooking in the Healthy Kitchen it was like a normal job but after I went to the schools to distribute the meals and saw how happy the children were with their meals, I felt different. I found mothers who were just like me – they kept their children at home too because they can't afford breakfast or basic school supplies.”

 Children attending schools that benefit from the Healthy Kitchen programme receive a cheese or bean sandwich with vegetables and fruit. Erteah, along with more than 100 kitchen staff – 80 percent of them women – prepare school lunches from early morning until noon. Local bakeries deliver bread each day and other supplies are sourced from local wholesalers, with fresh fruit and vegetables bought twice per week from the local market. “Local sellers sell large quantities. The local market benefits from this. Normally they would not sell such quantities,” says Erteah.


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