Zara ADAM, a 14-year-old girl, represents one of the many young girls in the Diffa region of Niger whose education is unfortunately disrupted due to persistent insecurity in the area. © WFP/ Abdoul Raffick GAISSA CHAIBOU


The clock strikes 11 in Blangou Yaskou primary school in Niger’s Diffa region. In the quiet schoolyard, where laughter and play usually echo, the sounds of learning from busy classrooms fill the air. In the sixth-grade classroom, young minds delve into arithmetic, their focus unwavering on the teacher at the front of the room. Amidst the diligent students, Zara shines brightly, her slate held high with a triumphant smile.


At 14 years old, Zara dreams of following in her teacher’s footsteps, eager to share her knowledge with the next generation in her community. She loves school and learning, recognizing that education offers hope amidst adversity for both herself, her family, and her community.


“I would like to become a teacher to be able to educate my younger brothers and sisters. They too will, in return, help others so that our community can do better,” she says.


Niger’s national school feeding programme, provides nearly 314,000 children just like Zara with daily hot meals. In the Diffa region alone, the programme supports 384 schools and 58,286 schoolchildren to contribute to enhancing access to education. This is particularly critical in Diffa, a place that has grappled with insecurity leading to forced displacements and disrupting school operations. School feeding in Diffa safeguards children’s learning and gives them a haven to focus on a better future.


“At school I receive breakfast and a hot lunch meal. While the context could be challenging here in Diffa, meals like the rice and nutritious peas with vegetable sauce I ate today are making sure that hunger does not force us to leave school. If I drop out of school, it means problems my family is experiencing will multiply and would be more difficult to resolve,” says Zara.


The meals Zara eats at school are reducing the burden of hunger and supporting her learning. As Niger celebrates the Africa School feeding Day, Zara’s experience highlights the importance of education as an effective investment to build a productive society that can break the cycle of poverty which drives inequality and conflict in many African countries.


School meals in Diffa incentivise girls in particular to remain in school with families also seeing the long-term benefits of education. In Niger, girls still face an enrolment gap, with a gross admission rate of 74.9% compared to 83.3% for boys in primary education (2018), hence the need to ensure that girls remain in school and avoid risks of child marriage and unwanted pregnancy.


“After eating, I am energetic and can effectively follow my teacher’s instructions throughout our morning and afternoon lessons. I do not have an excuse not to do well in my studies. Although my favourite subject is French, I do well in all the subjects,” says Zara. The carefully chosen foods are not just highly nutritious but also nurture healthy growth and development.


Thanks to the support from Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Luxembourg, Monaco, Norway, Spain, the European Union, Education Cannot Wait, WFP and UNICEF, the Government of Niger is giving many children who go to school on empty stomachs a fighting chance to pursue their education and the much-needed motivation to work hard and change their circumstances.