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Badilisha Lugha KISWAHILI

Combating poverty through school meals

13th February 2013
Ambassador David Lane, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations food and agriculture agencies in Rome, serves food to a pupil at Arkatan Primary School in Monduli District recently. (Photo courtesy of WFP)

Stories of pupils fainting at school due to hunger are many. Some children leave home very early in the morning, as early as five sometimes, in order to get to school on time. This is because they have to walk long distances to school. And because they leave home early, most don’t take breakfast. Some don’t because there is nothing to take for breakfast at home.

Coming from poor families, most are not given pocket money to buy snacks at school. So they spend the whole day on empty stomachs which is why some end up fainting.

Sometimes back, at Mwanamakuka Primary School in Bagamoyo district, a pupil was rushed to a nearby dispensary after he had fainted in class. The teachers had assumed the boy was sick, but it transpired, upon examination, that hunger was the cause.

The boy had gone to bed on a hungry stomach the previous night and hadn’t taken breakfast that morning. This is common in so many families, even in the capital Dar es Salaam.

The boy would not have ended up in hospital if his school had a feeding programme. Very aware of the poverty in some families, some schools have organized themselves in a way that they offer at least a cup of porridge to their pupils. Pupils who can afford contribute 100/- each day, some contribute more to cover for those who can’t afford.

The World Food Programme (WFP) Tanzania supports school feeding programmes in some schools and last year, WFP expanded its school feeding programme. Today the number of primary schoolchildren receiving meals under WFP programme has reached 640,000 from 600,000 in 2011.

During a recent visit to Arkatan Primary School in Arusha’s Monduli District, WFP Country Director Richard Ragan said the school feeding programme aims to help pupils concentrate better in class. The programme also saves those who would have gone back home for lunch the time to do so since some come very far from school.

“Many students come from a far place, it is difficult for them to go back home for lunch and if they are forced to go home, then they get back tired and cannot concentrate in class. The school feeding programme has been helping them to concentrate in class,” said Ragan.

Ragan noted that WFP and the government of Tanzania had embarked on ensuring that the school meals programme was sustainable by encouraging small farmers to produce more.

Anna Mollel, a teacher at Arkatan school says there has been an improvement in school attendance and performance since the primary school feeding programme started at the school a couple of years ago.

“When we go through the school attendance records, we usually see improvement in attendance and performance,” said the teacher.

The teacher said once the food is delivered, it is the responsibility of the school and the community to ensure that the schoolchildren get meals every day by creating a school menu that can be followed to avoid monotony of one type of a meal.

On his part ambassador David Lane, the U.S. Representative to the United Nations food and agriculture agencies in Rome, said the priorities are investing to save the lives of children, good nutrition, better hygiene, sanitation and health facilities, early child hood development, quality of education for all children and making schools safe. If this is done, our children will have a better life and become resourceful leaders of tomorrow.

The ambassador said for any programme to be a success, it has to be owned by the community and the school. He promised to take a report on the success of the feeding programme to Rome to see if more assistance could be given.

A new study conducted by Economic and Social Research Foundation (ESRF), a baseline for the school feeding programme for 2011 shows academic performance and attendance in schools in five regions in the country have improved tremendously, thanks to WFP’s school feeding programme.

The schools under WFP’s programme in Tanzania are located in five regions, in 16 drought-prone, food-insecure districts of central and northern Tanzania, which are Bahi, Chamwino, Mpwapwa, Kondoa, Manyoni Singida Rural and Iramba. Others are Manyara, Shinyanga Rural, Meatu, Kiteto, Monduli, Longido, Karatu, Ngorongoro and Simanjiro.

Lack of school feeding programmes to cater for primary schools in the country affects the performance of pupils as they go hungry all day. A survey conducted in 2011 on poor performance in schools by Hakielimu shows that many pupils complain of missing such an opportunity, forcing them to go home for lunch and thereby wasting a lot of valuable study time on the way.

The survey also indicated that most public schools and even some private schools do not provide lunch to students and teachers. This leads to poor performance.

Poor performance in schools is attributed to many causes such as the increasing number of pupils compared to the number of schools. Some classes accommodate 80 to 120 children. Experts say even if a teacher is well qualified, under such prevailing circumstances it is difficult to produce good products.

WFP school meals can take the form of a mid-morning snack or a nutritious breakfast of porridge. WFP uses fortified food to ensure that children get the micronutrients they need. Studies show that diet and nutrition play a critical role in physical and intellectual development.

To attract girls in school, WFP, through its "take-home rations" projects, WFP provides basic food items, often including a sack of rice and a can of cooking oil, to families who send their daughters to school.

WFP's school meal programmes work towards achieving several Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The programmes directly address the goals of reducing hunger by half, achieving universal primary education and of achieving gender parity in education all by 2015.

School meals contribute over the long term to combating poverty but it also helps to reduce disease. It provides a platform for directly addressing child health and nutrition, for example through de-worming schemes. It can also be a platform for other health interventions.



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