by Jessica Bousquette, WVUS Advocacy
From my childhood, I have distinct memories of the hot lunch program at school. In particular, it was a treat to be able to get hot lunch on special days. On St. Patrick’s Day, we had green-colored applesauce and chicken nuggets!
Most days, I appreciated the nutritious meals my mom lovingly packed, but sometimes, I would glance longingly from my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich (the fourth of the week) to the line of students getting hot lunch.
It has been a long time since I’ve thought about green applesauce. But, this brief moment from my childhood came to mind while reflecting on my visit to a World Vision program in the capital of Romania.
In the poorest area of Bucharest (also known as Sector 5), World Vision is working with the local government to provide hot meals and after-school programming for children, like tutoring and psychosocial support. The program started because of growing concern about the school dropout rate and the increased vulnerability of children due to poverty and lack of access to social services.
Romania has experienced deep social service cuts in the past few years, and the unemployment rate has increased because of the global economic crisis. In Sector 5, provision of basic needs, like food, is difficult for many families.
For example, George is 5 years old but is not able to attend kindergarten because his family cannot afford meals. The inability to cope with the rising prices of food amidst unemployment is not only a risk for malnutrition — it can also affect a child’s ability to attend school and develop socially. These factors can exacerbate marginalization and increase vulnerability to child labor and trafficking.
In Romania, social workers are few, and the social safety net that protects children from abuse, exploitation, and violence can be weak. Education and after-school programs can be an opportunity to ensure the well-being of a child and connect them and their family to other services. George’s older sister, Andreea, is enrolled in the after-school program, which is open to students ages 6 to 11. Next year, George will be able to join Andreea after school.
Exploitation of children, like child labor or trafficking, does not occur in isolation. Exploitation can be addressed by strengthening the safety net that protects a child. When children are able to participate fully in their community because they are healthy, when they are able to attend school and learn, and when they are able to access basic services, they are better protected.
Don’t let hunger become a cause of child exploitation. You can help protect children like George.
Join the HungerFree campaign, a movement to end hunger and to tell world leaders that global hunger must be on the agenda at the upcoming G8 and G20 summits in May and June.
HungerFree Art Challenge: Connect your Facebook profile or create art that expresses your vision for a HungerFree world. Here’s your chance to have your inspiring artwork delivered to the G8 leaders and featured in the HungerFree art exhibit at Union Station in Washington, D.C. Find out how!
Address your leaders: Global leaders are meeting at the G8 and G20 summits in May and June. We have an opportunity to make sure our leaders hear that hunger must be on the agenda and that bold, achievable commitments must be made to prioritize nutrition and food security.