A Plan for Helping Syrian Refugee Children

Last summer in the New York Times I wrote about the importance of school meals for children victimized by the war in Syria. We can do so much more for them, as we did for children in Europe and Asia affected by World War II.

Lebanon is one of the main countries where Syrians have fled to during the last five years of civil war. But once the refugees arrive they face all kinds of challenges just to have the basics of food and shelter. They have little or no resources.

Education suffers because refugee children often don't get the chance to go to school. Sometimes they have to beg in the streets just to get food for their family. That is how they are forced to spend their day rather than in class learning.

This is unacceptable and that is why school feeding programs are so important. The children need food and having the school as the distribution point gets them in class, safe and learning.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) has just started school feeding in Lebanon for 10,000 children, including Syrian refugees. The WFP is the largest hunger relief organization and they have been leading the way feeding Syrian war victims.

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School feeding being distributed to Syrian refugee children and Lebanese students. The World Food Programme needs to expand school feeding in Lebanon to reach more refugees. (photo credits: Dina El-Kassaby/WFP)

WFP Lebanon Country Director Dominik Heinrich, explains "By providing children with daily, nutritious meals at school, WFP can ensure improved nutritional intake for these children as well as encouraging their parents to send them to school regularly."

Syrian refugee children now are assured of having a box of juice or milk, a nutritious snack and some fruit waiting for them at school every day. The Italian Development Cooperation is funding this initial school feeding in Lebanon.

What's important is that we don't stop at feeding just 10,000 children. We have to think big when it comes to expanding this school feeding.

When General Douglas MacArthur ordered school feeding for Japanese children after World War II, he expected big results. And millions of children were fed once the program got underway. We have to make sure all children receive school meals today.

Soha Moussa of WFP says, "In an ideal world, WFP would like to reach all children enrolled in public primary schools. However, in reality, WFP will only be able to expand to the extent that the resources and capacity allow."

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School feeding for Syrian refugee children improves their class attendance and performance. A plan is needed to feed millions of refugee children school meals in the Middle East. (photo credit Dina El-Kassaby/WFP)

The United States has the Food for Peace and the McGovern-Dole school lunch program that can fund school feeding in Lebanon. Congress has to give enough support.

The McGovern-Dole school lunch program is named after former senators and WWII vets George McGovern and Bob Dole. This program needs a big expansion and more emphasis by the President and the Congress.

We could use this program to issue special grants to feed children affected by war and drought. With conflict and displacement at a level unprecedented since WWII, we need to step up our response.

We could help the WFP expand and feed more Syrian children. There is also school feeding in Lebanon by Mercy Corps and Mary's Meals. Catholic Relief Services is feeding children daily meals in Lebanon via the Good Shepherd Sisters. These charities need support too.

The best thing someone can do is contact their elected officials and urge them to increase our hunger relief funding to meet the growing needs. With so many humanitarian emergencies ongoing at once have to meet the challenge like the Greatest Generation of WWII did.

We can start with school meals for all Syrian children.