When Claudine heard that schools would be closed for nearly six months due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in Rwanda, she knew a challenging time lay ahead for her and her six children.
Claudine has lived in Mahama refugee camp in Eastern Rwanda with her family for the past five years, after fleeing unrest in neighboring Burundi. Claudine is incredibly grateful that all six of her children are able to attend primary school in the camp. It was not just the education that she wanted her children to receive but also the daily meals provided by the United Nations World Food Programme’s (WFP).
Before the COVID-19 outbreak, WFP’s school feeding programme provided daily nutritious school meals to nearly 59,000 children attending primary and pre-primary schools in and around refugee camps. Children received a cup of highly nutritious porridge each school day, which helps them to concentrate and learn better during school hours. This mid-morning porridge decreases their likelihood of dropping out of school and increases their academic performance. The daily meal also contributes to a child’s overall nutrition and food security.
On 22 March 2020 the Government of Rwanda closed all schools across the country in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. Subsequently a life-line for many families was lost.
“During school days, knowing that all my children would receive a healthy meal enabled me to better manage my family’s food supply,” Claudine explained. “I know the porridge they received at school also supported their good health.”
To avoid the pandemic becoming a hunger calamity for schoolchildren, WFP provided take-home rations of the fortified blended food that would normally be prepared and served to children during school days.
“My children have really been missing their porridge since schools have been closed,” said Claudine who had been to collect the food for her children. “This is really important. It makes me happy to see my children eating nutritious porridge which I know helps them to grow healthy.”
To comply with the government’s movement restrictions, put in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading, WFP and other humanitarian partners changed their operational norms. Instead of the usual cash to buy food at the markets, WFP provided refugees with two months of food assistance instead to reduce interactions with outside traders and bank agents. Mothers and pregnant women were provided a months supply of nutritious food products, instead of the usual two week supply.
Chantal, a Burundian refugee and mother of four living in the camp was grateful for these measures put in place to keep her and her family safe from COVID-19 and for the additional support during this period.
“The changes will help reduce the spread of the virus here and can save our lives. I’m hopeful life can return to normal soon though regardless of the challenges I’ve experienced during lockdown, I’m not too worried because at least my family has enough to eat,” said Chantal.
Thanks to the generous support of donors like the United States of America, WFP is able to provide food and nutrition assistance each month to approximately 138,000 Burundian and Congolese refugees living in refugee camps across Rwanda. Camp-based refugees in Rwanda have extremely limited livelihood opportunities, and more than 80 percent of refugees’ income is derived from food and cash assistance provided by humanitarian agencies like WFP.