The USDA McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program is working to make a difference in Central America. Guatemala has one of the highest rates of stunting in the world due to chronic malnutrition. More than 90 percent of families live on less than $2 a day and as a result, the majority of children are obligated to help their parents in the fields and stop attending school. Without education, their opportunities for work are greatly reduced.
A McGovern-Dole funded program implemented by SHARE Guatemala has helped 70,000 children go to school and also helped feed the families of 22,500 children in the fourth through sixth grades. The program is operating in 533 rural elementary schools in the poorest municipalities and supports children, parents and teachers through take-home food scholarships, daily school snacks, school gardens, PTA support, and donations of supplies to improve the learning environment.
The take-home food scholarships offer each child a monthly ration of food for the entire family to consume. In exchange, each child is required to attend school regularly and complete each grade until graduating from elementary school. The food ration compensates in part for what the child will not produce economically while attending school and studying, with the objective of lowering drop-out rates and increasing the number of children graduating from elementary school – no small accomplishment in rural Guatemala.
The story of Yenifer and her family exemplifies the profound benefits of the program. When Socorro enrolled her daughter Yenifer in sixth grade at Ana Esthela Pérez Hernández Elementary School, she did not expect to find so many advantages for her family upon moving back to San Martín Jilotepeque, her place of origin. Yenifer had suffered greatly in her previous school and dealt with speech and social problems. In her new school, Yenifer found a favorable environment to overcome her difficulties, her grades have improved and she is now able to speak and socialize well.
Yenifer, her mother and two brothers live in a small house comprised of one room with walls made from corn stalks and a metal laminate roof, held down by pieces of palm wood. Her shoes are worn down from walking 30 minutes each way to get to school on dirt roads. For Yenifer, however, the long walks are worth it because this school has greatly benefited the life of her family. The take-home food scholarship has allowed her to continue her studies through the end of the year, while at the same time helping her mother provide food for the family. Graduating from primary school will place her at an advantage over the majority of women in poor rural areas, who typically do not continue past second or third grade.
Through this program, Yenifer has learned more than simply reading, writing, and arithmetic. With the example of her mother, and thanks to the motivation of the scholarship and her experiences in school, she has learned important lessons about justice, character, perseverance, and generosity.
Yenifer’s story is an excellent example of how the McGovern-Dole program promotes the empowerment of beneficiaries to thrive in a variety of ways and lead by example. To learn more, visit our website.