Olympic medalist Paul Tergat grew up as one of 17 children in a family that struggled daily with hunger. Thanks to his persistence and the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) school meals program, he conquered hunger and changed his life.

Growing up in northern Kenya, Paul Tergat and his family often lacked enough food for just one simple meal a day. 

As a result, he rarely attended school. He just didn’t have the energy to make the three-mile journey there from his home in the drought-prone Baringo district. When he did find his way there, it was difficult for him to concentrate in the classroom on an empty stomach.

But in 1977, Paul’s life changed forever. WFP began distributing school meals in his district. School meals help to improve children’s nutrition, ability to learn and life chances while giving poor families an incentive to send their children to school. 

The promise of these meals encouraged Paul, then only eight years old, to go to class at the Riwo Primary School. In fact, thanks to the nutrition provided by WFP’s school meals, Paul would eventually work up the strength and energy to run the three-mile route. Every day he ran, becoming faster and stronger with each subsequent trek. 

“There was no food if I would stay at home,” Tergat said. “It was an incentive for me to go to school because there was a meal in school.”

Those runs proved to be remarkably significant later in life, a precursor to an incredible change of fate. Ten years later, Paul won two Olympic silver medals for the 10,000-meter competition — one in 1996 and one in 2000. 

In 2003, he set the marathon world record at the Berlin Marathon. Two years later, he won the New York City Marathon in the closest finish in the race’s history.

As a school meals recipient and one of the fastest long-distance runners of all time, Paul credits WFP for instilling in him the drive and potential to become a champion runner. Since 2004, Paul has served as a WFP Ambassador Against Hunger, traveling the globe to share his inspiring story with children in the world’s poorest classrooms and to raise support for the U.N. agency that shaped his destiny.

“There are children in Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, who may not be able to have education,” Tergat says. “But they can be champions too.”

Watch this video of Paul Tergat talk about how a simple idea and vision helped change the world for him and children across the globe. 


CARACAS –  The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) started its school meals program in Venezuela this week, with the first distributions of take-home food rations to children enrolled in 277 pre-primary schools and to their schools’ staff in all municipalities in the state of Falcón.

Schoolchildren under the age of six, in areas identified by the U.N. World Food Programme as the most affected by food insecurity, are at the center of its program that will progressively expand to other Venezuelan states to reach 185,000 people by the end of this year, 850,000 by the end of the 2021-2022 school year and 1.5 million by the end of the 2022-2023 school year.

“We are reaching these vulnerable children at a critical stage of their lives when their brains and bodies need nutritious food to develop to their full potential,” said Susana Rico, U.N. World Food Programme Representative a.i. in Venezuela, during the first distribution on Tuesday at the Antonio Dolores school, in the town of Coro. “Schools like this are more than just a place to learn, they are a pillar of the community and offer a golden opportunity to provide small children with what they need to help them thrive.”

Parents or guardians collect the take-home rations on behalf of their children from the schools where they are enrolled. The monthly ration for each child under the age of six is made up of 13 pounds of rice, 20 pounds of lentils, 1 pound of iodized salt and 1 liter of vegetable oil. Once pre-primary schools reopen, the U.N. World Food Programme will help rehabilitate canteens and train staff in food safety practices to start serving nutritious hot meals. Schools are currently closed in Venezuela due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.N. World Food Programme started its school meals program just over two months after signing an agreement in April 2021 with the Government of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela whereby the U.N. World Food Programme can establish a presence in the country and commence its humanitarian operation.

For the implementation of its school meals program, the U.N. World Food Programme is managing its own supply chain, from purchasing food to distributing it in schools. The program is carried out in coordination with school authorities and teachers, and in partnership with local non-governmental organizations.

The U.N. World Food Programme is grateful to the international donors who have confirmed funding or made pledges for nearly $30 million, that will guarantee the implementation of its operations in Venezuela until the end of the year. As a voluntarily funded humanitarian organization, the U.N. World Food Programme remains in conversations with potential donors to secure additional funding to ensure that vulnerable Venezuelan children have a head start in life.

Note to the editor:

High resolution photos available here.

Video footage available here.

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The United Nations World Food Programme is the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.  We are the world’s largest humanitarian organization, saving lives in emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict, disasters and the impact of climate change.

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