Interview: Brenda Urizar of Catholic Relief Services in Guatemala

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) fights hunger in Guatemala, which is one of 45 countries needing emergency food assistance according to the U.S. Famine Warning System. When drought conditions strike the country, it can be catastrophic for families and their livelihoods. In areas already suffering in poverty, such disasters have a terrible impact and require outside food assistance.

School meals, funded by the U.S. McGovern-Dole program, are provided by CRS there. The McGovern-Dole program is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and sponsors school meals across the globe. The initiative is named after former senators George McGovern and Bob Dole.

The goal of the program is to feed children but also get them to attend school. The meals offer incentive to attend class and the strength to learn once they arrive.

However, McGovern-Dole is at risk of being eliminated because of the new budget proposal by the Trump administration. The Congress will be debating in the coming months on how much funding to give McGovern-Dole.

Recently Brenda Urizar, the head of Food for Education for CRS Guatemala, answered some questions about the importance of these school lunches for children and the impact of McGovern-Dole funded school meals.

How many children are receiving school meals from CRS in Guatemala?

An average of about 16,000 male students and 15,000 female students received school meals every day during the beginning of the 2017 school year. In total, the number of students reached in Guatemala through CRS this school year has been about 31,000.  In the 2018 school year, this number is expected to grow to about 49,000 children under the donor-approved budget.

 Students of the Paronchaj primary school in Totonicapán, Guatemala,  enjoy a school lunch made possible by USDA through CRS
Students of the Paronchaj primary school in Totonicapán, Guatemala, enjoy a school lunch made possible by USDA through CRS as part of the Learning for Life Bilingual Primary Education program. This community is almost entirely comprised of an indigenous population that faces higher rates of poverty and unemployment in Guatemala.

Are the school meals funded by the United States McGovern-Dole program?

Yes, all school meals are funded by the U.S. McGovern-Dole program.

Can you describe the impact of the meals in terms of child nutrition and class attendance?

The nutritious, daily school meals provided by the McGovern-Dole program has a huge impact on children. Per our 2014 baseline, about 20 percent of students expressed that they were not hungry during the school day. In the 2015 mid-term evaluation, that number jumped to 80% of students who expressed that they were not hungry during the school day. This demonstrates the huge effect that school meals have on reducing immediate hunger. In addition, reducing daily hunger has a logical effect on student attentiveness, as students can better focus on lessons during the school day. Project results reinforce this, showing that students involved in CRS-Guatemala’s program experienced an increase in attentiveness and in school attendance. Additionally, school meals combined with a strong, bilingual (Spanish and Maya K’iche’) reading comprehension program have increased the percentage of students reading at grade level.

Is there enough funding to continue the meals the rest of the year?

There is enough funding to continue with the complete school feeding program through this school year, which ends in October, 2017.

How can someone help CRS?

Lobby in the U.S. and advocate with legislators to keep the McGovern-Dole program fully funded. This is an incredibly important program.

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