Ruth from Malawi, age 8, lives near a school. For too long, she did not go to class because she did not know where her next meal would come from. What she did know, however, was that if she worked she’d have food on the table—a grim reality for millions of other children, too.

“'I want to see that the kids receive education,' Banesa says, 'to become something in life.'”

Outside help

The U.N. World Food Programme (WFP) is aiming to change that reality by linking local farmers with schools so they can support their own children and other students nearby. The organization feeds nearly 17 million boys and girls each year, helping to lift farmers out of poverty by sourcing children’s school meals through locally grown crops. It’s the world’s largest provider of school meals.

The program has touched little Ruth’s life: Her mother, Clara, grows corn, sweet potatoes and groundnuts that are harvested to feed students like her own daughter at the nearby Ching’ombe Primary School.

“I feel great when children are eating in school because they learn properly when they have eaten,” Clara says.

GREEN THUMB: Banesa checks on her vegetables in Bangladesh's Sirajganj district, which she will provide to her children's school.

Real results

According to the WFP, the program has helped increase enrollment at Ching’ombe Primary School by 72 percent. About 4,500 miles away is the Jamalpur district of Bangladesh, Banesa grows vegetables and fruits like pumpkins, papayas and okra, which she then sells to WFP for the local school meals program. Banesa is able to use those earnings to provide for her own family and nourish those students in need.

In Banesa’s case, the extra money means the chance to buy a goat and chickens. Her children have continued to attend school. “I want to see that the kids receive education,” Banesa says, “to become something in life.”