Notes to Women is thrilled to feature In The Spotlight, Julie Marshall, Canadian Spokesperson for the United Nations World Food Programme.
NTW: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Julie: My job involves briefing the media, raising the profile of the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the issue of global hunger within Canada, creating and promoting educational material for universities and schools,producing fundraising, awareness and advertising campaigns, working with our Canadian Ambassador Against Hunger, George Stroumboulopoulos and creating communications material for our private sector partners within Canada.
NTW: How long have you been with World Food Programme?
Julie: I have been working in a communications role with WFP for over 9 years.
NTW: What made you become a part of the organization?
Julie: I knew of WFP’s outstanding reputation as the world’s largest humanitarian agency, and I really like the fact that their administrative costs are one of the lowest in the non-profit sector – 90% of donations go directly to WFP operations.
NTW: WFP covers a wide range of areas in its fight to combat hunger, is there an area of particular interest for you?
Julie: I have to say I enjoy visiting WFP school meals programmes. WFP supplies nutritious school meals to over 18 million children every year. A meal at school acts as a magnet to get children into the classroom, especially in regions where girls are not encouraged to attend school. Providing a daily nutritious meal and in some cases a take home ration to children helps to keep them in school giving them hope for a brighter future. I have also seen how buying food locally, benefits local farmers and the whole community and really enhances the sustainability of our programmes.
Photo: Julie at a WFP school meals operation in Honduras.
NTW: WFP’s vision is a world where every man, woman and child always has access to food in order to have an active and healthy life. What is your vision?
Julie: A child’s future should start with zero hunger. WFP is working to create a world where no one is hungry, freeing children from the effects of undernutrition and helping them achieve their true potential. Every day, thousands of kids die because of hunger. But they don’t have to, because the world produces enough food for everyone.
NTW: It is said that empowering women is the first step towards Zero Hunger. In Ecuador, this seems to be a challenge. Rural women are illiterate, they earn less than urban women, they work 23 hours more than men, they have suffered some form of gender violence. The statistics when it comes to abuse among girls in Ecuador are very disturbing. 78 percent suffer from abuse at home, 42% from severe abuse and girls ages between 10 and 15 years have been victims of gender violence, especially sexual abuse. How would WFP help these women and girls who are battling not only hunger but illiteracy, low wages, disproportionate working hours and gender abuse?
Julie: I visited WFP school meals operations in Ecuador in 2014 and quickly learnt how these meals helped get kids into school, but also helped to support many women in the community.
I visited a school in the remote community of Pimampiro, where some children walk for hours to school. When they arrive they are hungry and tired. The nutritious breakfast of juice and a granola bar and a lunch of rice, vegetables and lentils help them learn and play. Some of the vegetables are grown, with the help of WFP, in their school vegetable garden and the rest are purchased by WFP from the local small farmers associations, which are run and organized mostly by women. These associations work closely with WFP and the local government to deliver fresh vegetables to the school every week. WFP has helped establish farmer’s associations and community gardens across the region in order to increase the financial and food security of small-holder farmers.
Nancy, a 25 year old, single mom is the president of the local small farmers association in Otavalo, who supply fresh vegetables to the local schools. Nancy explained to me how WFP and the local government helped to formalize their association, diversified their crops, encouraged women to participate and how working together they now receive a fair market price for their produce. These women now have a steady income and a standing in the community.
Photo: Nancy in vegetable garden
NTW: Somalia has chronically high malnutrition rates, in fact, one in eight children under five is acutely malnourished. Please tell us about the nutrition programmes WFP has set up to treat and prevent this problem which is prevalent among young women, pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.
Julie: WFP supports food assistance operations to the most vulnerable people, and at the same time is working to help build resilience in the country. We have development operations designed to help hungry people help themselves; emergency operations that provide food to prevent hunger and malnutrition and relief and recovery operations that assist in stabilizing food security and the rebuilding after emergencies.
The Mother and Child Health and Nutrition (MCHN) Programme in Somalia helps to prevent malnutrition in children under the age of 2 years. We focus on the first 1,000 days of life (from conception to age 2) because this is the window of opportunity for preventing irreversible damages to a child’s growth and mental development due to poor nutrition. Pregnant and nursing women are therefore also targeted to ensure a good start in life for their children. The women, irrespective of their nutritional status, receive daily supplements of fortified blended food to complement a generally poor diet. In Somalia, the programme is implemented through functional Maternal & Child Health clinics to ensure that women and children receive nutritional support as well as health interventions necessary for healthy growth: immunization, de-worming, treatment of diarrhea and other common illnesses, ante-natal and post-natal medical check-ups, etc. Pregnant or nursing women stay in the programme until delivery and/or when the child reaches 6 months, while children can remain in the programme until they reach 24 months of age.
NTW: As we all know, education is one way to empower girls in countries where girls don’t have access to it for any number of reasons. In Somalia, the enrollment rates for primary school-aged children are among the lowest where out of 42% of those who are in school, only 36% are girls.. Share with us what WFP is doing to boost the enrolment rates.
Julie: WFP school meals encourage children, especially girls, to attend classes, enrollment goes up, attendance is consistently high and with a full tummy both girls and boys can concentrate on their work. In Somaliland, Puntland and the Central regions, we encourage the attendance of older girls by providing them with a take-home family ration of vegetable oil when the girls attend school regularly. Keeping them in school longer gives them a better and healthier start to life.
NTW: In Somalia, unemployment among young people aged 14 to 29 years is one of the highest at 67%. Tell us about WFP’s Food for Training programmes.
Julie: Poverty-stricken communities hit by floods or droughts are too busy looking for food to rebuild infrastructure vital for redevelopment. WFP finds out why a community is hungry and works with the community to rebuild their infrastructure – so they no longer need outside help. WFP provides food or in some cases cash, in exchange for work making it possible for the poor and hungry to take the first steps out of the hunger trap.
In Somalia, WFP implemented Food-for-Assets activities for over 12,000 people in Luuq, Dolow and Belethawa. Through this programme WFP provides food rations to support self-help initiatives, such as building water harvesting structures and canal irrigation. The programme helps meet the immediate food needs of hungry people, as well as preventing communities from resorting to harmful coping strategies, such as selling assets and livestock during an emergency.
NTW: What changes do you hope to see by the end of this year?
Julie: A number of our major operations are in conflict areas. In these areas I hope to see open access to besieged and hard to reach areas in conflict situations, allowing WFP and the whole humanitarian community continued access to all people in need of humanitarian assistance. Also, Sustainable and predictable funding is needed to ensure that WFP assistance continues, not just in major crisis like Syria, but in seemingly forgotten emergencies were people are still in need but not in the media.
NTW: What has been your biggest challenge working at WFP? What has been your biggest achievement?
Julie: One of the most satisfying parts of my job has been to see the Canadian public becoming more and more engaged in the issue of global hunger and the work of WFP over the years. It can be challenging to raise funds for a humanitarian crisis that’s been going on for a number of years, like the Syrian conflict, but Canadians and the Canadian Government (who are consistently among our top 3 donors) continue to come through and support our work.
NTW: Julie, it has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for sharing the work that you are doing through the World Food Programme, the world’s largest humanitarian agency fighting hunger worldwide. I hope this interview will encourage people to get more involved in the fight against hunger.