Yemen: When a “CARE Package” Brings Education and Hope

Many of us have received “CARE packages” at one time or another. College students, service members, or just those with birthdays have all appreciated these special deliveries. It’s like a box of presents with a smile.

These kinds of parcels have even played a significant role in world affairs. General Lucius Clay praised the use of CARE packages in Germany after World War II saying, “the physical and psychological effects of this aid were immense.”

For a second-grade girl in Yemen named Arwa, a “CARE package” of food rations means something else: an education. When the UN World Food Programme (WFP) provided rations at school, this was an incentive for her parents to send her to class. She would become a breadwinner of sorts.

Living in rural Yemen, Arwa’s family is poor and getting basic foods is a struggle. When food prices are high, which they often are in Yemen, it becomes even harder to put bread on the table. In Yemen, over seven million people, one third of the population, are in this food insecurity trap, and many others just barely stay out of the pit.

Arwa and her family are not asking for much. They just want things many of us take for granted. With just one relatively inexpensive plan, WFP was feeding families and providing children like Arwa a chance to learn and become almost anything they set their mind to.

But then the funding cuts came, and this food for education program went by the wayside. How many people know that the WFP food for education program in Yemen has only had one limited distribution since June 2009? WFP relies on voluntary funding from the international community.

Tragically, donors have shown little interest in funding projects that feed and educate children in Yemen. It is disastrous policymaking at its worst. For food and education are what will change Yemen in the long run. A country cannot stand, with malnourished and uneducated children.

Yemen has been in the news a lot lately because of ongoing political unrest. From Yemen we hear the defiant words of President Saleh who won’t step down. We hear from protesters and others calling for change in the poorest country in the Middle East.

But let’s take a moment to hear from those whose voices often struggle to be heard. Let’s hear from Arwa and other children who need basics but cannot get them. April/May 2010 was the last time WFP Food for Education rations were distributed in Yemen.

At that time Maria Santamarina of WFP compiled the words of Arwa and other children in the hopes of getting their message out to the world and saving the program. It’s still possible to restart Food for Education, it’s just waiting for the international community to act.

Arwa said, “The most important part of my going to school is to receive the support provided by WFP; we need this food for our home.” Another of the Yemeni children, Hyat, said, “our families need food. It not only helps us have enough to eat, but allows us the opportunity to study.” Hyat wants to become a teacher.

But many students don’t get to realize their dreams in Yemen. And look at the country now; there is instability, Al Qaeda'”and who knows what lies around the corner?

What is tragic though is that there is so little discussion on doing things that can save Yemen, like food for education for all children. It would be the most inexpensive and the most useful thing we can do for Yemen and its youth.

Build up the schools in Yemen, provide the rations, and give the people the tools they need to solve their own problems. The primary tool is education. Give the children in Yemen the “CARE packages” that feed their stomachs and minds, and watch a country develop.

Article first published as Yemen: When a “CARE Package” Brings Education and Hope on Blogcritics.