We Could Take Humanitarian Lessons from Herbert Hoover

News Abroad

Mr. Lambers is the author of The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World.

On May 17, 1946, former President Herbert Hoover spoke to America about a world threat "more destructive than armies," a force so powerful as to bring "disorder and the paralysis of government, and even its downfall." Hoover was not speaking of the atomic bomb but rather the hunger and starvation which was striking much of Europe and Asia after World War II.

In that same speech, Hoover talked about those who were the most likely to suffer in a hunger crisis: children. For Hoover, this could not stand. In his words, "Civilization marches forward upon the feet of healthy children."

When Hoover found hunger and starvation among the children of post-war Germany, he took action by starting a massive school lunch program. This initiative fed millions of German children to which General Lucius Clay exclaimed, "It saved the health of German youth." Clay, the military governor of the American zone of Germany, noted that Hoover's program "did more to convince the German people of our desire to recreate their nation than any other action on our part."

Today, school lunch programs are still vital to the reconstruction of war-torn nations like Afghanistan. The charity World Vision and the UN World Food Programme are among those helping the new government of Afghanistan build its education system through school feeding. The promise of a school lunch, sometimes with take-home rations, offers an incentive for Afghans to send their children to school. Once in school, the children receive the free meal and are able to concentrate on their lessons.

The literacy rate and school attendance, particularly among girls, have long suffered in Afghanistan. School feeding programs are instrumental in changing this sad reality.

But school feeding programs must be fully funded. In the case of World Vision, for instance, they hope to secure more funding from their original source, the U.S. government's McGovern-Dole Food for Education program. Congress will decide later this month in the Farm Bill Conference what direction to take in funding McGovern-Dole. Charities, like World Vision, have most of their McGovern-Dole applications denied because not enough funding is given the program by Congress. But if the Congress values the importance of school feeding the way Hoover and General Clay did, then McGovern-Dole will certainly get a significant boost.

School feeding programs are also a part of emergency missions like that of the World Food Programme in the Darfur region of Sudan. Nearly 3 million people are in need of humanitarian aid in Darfur resulting from the violence between rebel groups and the Sudanese government. Many of these people have been forced out of their homes and villages and into refugee camps. There, they await a peaceful resolution to the conflict and desperately needed humanitarian aid.

The World Food Programme operates school feeding in the refugee camps to allow children to continue their education, a small bit of normalcy surrounded by terrible circumstances. The school feeding is part of a larger humanitarian relief operation that must be fully funded to save the refugees and give them a chance to rebuild their country once peacekeepers are deployed.

These are just some examples of the frontline of the struggle against child hunger. Look at the work of ChildsLife International in the Kibera slum of Nairobi, Kenya. There, at the Stara School, orphaned children are provided with two meals a day. ChildsLife would like to expand its school feeding in the impoverished area.

Worldwide, 300 million children suffer from hunger. School lunch programs combat this injustice and provide a foundation for a future: a right that must be preserved for all children around the world. As Hoover put it when faced with the post WWII crisis, "the saving of these human lives is far more than an economic necessity to the recovery of the world. It is more than the only path to order, to stability and to peace. Such action marks the return of the lamp of compassion to the earth. And that is a part of the moral and spiritual reconstruction of the world."