Despite the importance of education and skills-building for both immediate support and protection, as well as for longer-term livelihoods opportunities, children—particularly girls—are frequently kept from school or other educational opportunities in order to collect firewood for their families. Children are also kept from school because they are an economic lifeline to displaced families with few other income opportunities, and because families often cannot afford to pay their children’s school fees. The grandmother of an eight-year-old girl told the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Senegal: “If she goes to school, we can’t eat.”
When schools began opening in post-earthquake Haiti, many parents – who had lost their jobs and were surviving on $5 per day payments from the UN for clearing rubble – had to choose between paying their children’s school fees or buying charcoal to cook.
School meal programs play a key role in enhancing the nutritional intake of schoolchildren who may otherwise be forced to skip lunch. They also reduce the burden of feeding children at home and can encourage parents to send their children to school. However, schools often use firewood to fuel inefficient open fires or traditional cookstoves to cook for hundreds of children at a time. In some cases, families are required to contribute firewood or cash to these programs – if they are unable to, their children may be forced to miss class or the meal. WFP Kenya, for example, found that some schools charged 2 shillings a day if a child did not bring firewood for the lunch meal.1
The use of improved institutional cookstoves and alternative fuel in school feeding programs can reduce the amount of firewood required to feed crisis-affected children, and individual fuel-efficient cookstoves can reduce usage at the household level. Other domestic energy technologies, such as solar lamps, can also improve education by allowing children to study in the evening. These technologies, in combination with sensitization and educational campaigns, could potentially improve the education and lives of children in humanitarian settings.
1 World Food Programme. Impact Evaluation of WFP School Feeding Programmes in Kenya (1999-2008): A Mixed-Methods Approach. 2010. http://documents.wfp.org/stellent/groups/public/documents/reports/wfp219433.pdf