Could a plate of beans and rice help change the world?
Last month, I squeezed into a child’s-size desk to have lunch with a class of primary school students in Tanzania. I was there to join them for the launch of their new school lunch program. On the menu: red beans cooked with tomatoes and onions served over rice.
You can join us in this VR video. (We’ve saved a plate for you.)
Lunch was delicious. More than that, it filled me with hope. Watching my 67 lunchmates—most of them 8-year-olds—dig into their piles of rice and beans, I was reminded that even the humblest of meals can have a far-reaching impact not just for individuals, but entire nations.
Here’s why: This month, as children around the globe begin another school year, millions of students in the poorest countries (and even some in wealthy countries) will turn up for classes on an empty stomach, making it difficult for them to learn and continue their schooling. According to the World Food Program, 66 million primary school-age children attend classes hungry across the developing world, with 23 million in Africa alone.
A school lunch program, however, can make a world of difference. It encourages kids to come to school, gives them energy to learn, and improves their overall health. The benefits don’t stop at the classroom door. Economic modelling shows that every US$1 invested in school meals programs brings a US$3-10 economic return from improved health, education and productivity. And a new research paper by the World Food Program found that school meals can contribute to help achieving the Global Goals, including ending hunger, quality education, and gender equality and indirectly to reducing poverty, contributing to the economy, and helping to reduce inequality.
Not too bad for a plate of beans and rice.
Stay tuned for more stories from my trip to Tanzania in the months ahead.