Interview with William Lambers, Global Hunger Examiner

William Lambers, author of several books and numerous articles and opeds, has been published by History News Network, the Cincinnati Enquirer, the San Diego Union-Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and other publications. He is the feature Global Hunger Examiner at Blogcritics Magazine and Examiner.  Read more to learn about his work interviewing the humanitarian movers and shakers fighting world hunger and how he has been active in ending childhood malnutrition.

What inspired you to become so active in the fight against hunger?

In my last graduate school class several years ago, we were discussing Darfur and I mentioned the food ration cuts that were taking place at that time.  I decided to find out more about the food crisis there, since I was not very well informed about the World Food Programme or global hunger in general.

I bought a book on Food for Peace one day after class and contacted the World Food Programme shortly thereafter. Within a month I had my first article out. At that time I was already writing commentary pieces for newspapers and web sites on other subjects. Some of these were distributed by the History News Service.  This was just adding a new subject to my coverage.

Later I wrote an oped on the McGovern-Dole Global School Lunch Program which was published in several newspapers. The Friends of the World Food Program (now WFP USA) contacted me about helping them with a campaign about expanding McGovern-Dole.

Consider writing to your representative about expanding this program or creating a separate program to provide nutrition for infant children, which will of course include Plumpy’nut.

See the article President Roosevelt’s Third Freedom and Global Child Feeding.

You’ve done extensive research on school feeding programs around the world.  Can you share some of the innovative ways you saw these programs being implemented?

In Bhutan the World Food Programme uses yaks to deliver the food for some of the schools in the most remote parts of the country.

Yaks used in Bhutan for school feeding programs

Another example would be Haiti.  After the earthquake, many schools were destroyed or badly damaged. However, WFP still ran a school feeding program by distributing meals of rice and beans in a school yard.  They would sound a signal using a loudspeaker, and children, even those not enrolled in school, could come to the school yard for the meals.  Stephanie Tremblay of WFP in Haiti said, “We are expanding local purchases for the school feeding programme, thanks to a $2 million donation from the Brazilian government that is to be spent on food produced locally.”

Another innovation has to do with take-home rations which really can help increase attendance in school, particularly in the case of girls. Knowing there are take-home rations available very much encourages the parents to send their child to school. You can unlock the door to education for a child with school feeding and take-home rations.

Do the foods served at school feeding programs vary drastically from country to country?  What are some examples of various feeding program meals?

Yes, the types of food do vary. WFP sometimes provides a meal of porridge or rice as part of school feeding breakfast or lunch. Some programs they have local farmers contribute fruits and vegetables.  But then sometimes there are no cooking facilities available and the food needs to be ready to eat. Some school feeding programs, for instance, have high energy biscuits, which do not require preparation. In Iraq, before school feeding was suspended for low funding, they provided date bars fortified with iron and Vitamin A. In the Gaza Strip it is biscuits (date bars) and chocolate flavoured milk.

How have you seen Plumpy’nut implemented in your work covering global hunger?

Part of my series on hunger in Yemen includes accounts of families who have benefited from supplementary plumpy. Maria Santamarina of WFP Yemen provided these accounts. Below is an excerpt with one account and also a link to the full article.

“Upon arrival to the center Imad was observed to be underdeveloped for a child of 17 months: he was emaciated; his head was swollen and he lacked the strength to hold it up on his own; and he was nearly without hair. . .The nurse at the center explained to Abdul Alli that Imad was ill and would have to be enrolled in a special targeted feeding programme in order to better treat his acute malnutrition. Imad would have to return to the center every two weeks for monitoring until his condition had improved.

Abdul Alli was trained on how to administer the Supplementary Plumpy . . . as Imad began to eat the peanut-butter like paste, a tiny smile spread across his face, he began to clench the packet in his small hands and eat with vigor, unwilling to let go until he had finished the entire packet”

You can read the full article here. Keep in mind that this is one of the programs that is short of funding in Yemen. They need more Supplementary’Plumpy. Visit www.wfp.org/countries/yemen

How have you witnessed school feeding programs affect school attendance and performance?

The results are very convincing when it comes to school feeding and its relation to attendance and performance. It makes a huge difference in terms of improving each. In the Ending World Hunger interview series, that was one of the key questions. Visit www.lamberspublications.com/schoolfeeding.html and there is a country list which includes feedback for each country on class attendance and performance.

Can you explain your vision of the national school meal and infant feeding program you’ve written about?

http://www.examiner.com/x-16819-Global-Hunger-Examiner~y2010m7d5-When-you-feed-a-child-you-feed-the-future#comments

All children should be able to receive school meals and in the case of infants, the nutritional support they need in the first critical months (the first 1000 days).

The goal is to get each country to provide these child feeding programs for all ages. The World Food Programme and other agencies are there to offer assistance to these countries and help fill existing shortages.  Funding often prevents this from happening.  However, the goal is to help provide for child feeding and make the programs become self-sustaining and with locally produced food whenever possible.

In the course of researching and interviewing for your book Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World, you’ve had the opportunity to speak with people dedicated to ending hunger from around the world.  Are there any countries or stories that stick with you in particular?

So many things really, especially with the Ending World Hunger series, the hunger crisis in Yemen.  One time I was listening to a Friends of WFP conference call and their guest, Congressman Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, was saying something to the effect that it’s impossible for one person to know everything about global hunger.  I think that is true. When you start diving into these issues, you find how complex they are. The issue of hunger is also not set off by itself.  It is impacted by issues of war and peace, governance, the economy.  I think you learn something new every day when you start researching global hunger.  The more you learn, the more you have to find out.

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