THE IMPORTANCE OF FEEDING PROGRAMS
by Mohit Kotak
The Kenyan Government recently started its Home Grown School Feeding Program (HGSFP) in primary schools across the country. However with roughly 70-80% of the Kenyan population still living in rural areas, a majority of primary schools are yet unable to reap the benefits of the HGSFP because of a myriad of factors: poor infrastructure, unpredictable weather patterns, and mismanagement of resources. As the Kenyan government looks to limit the role of foreign players such as the World Food Program (WFP) in order to transform the HGSFP into an independent national enterprise, many Kenyan organisations have stepped in to support schools that the government cannot. Amongst these are churches, religious organisations and NGOs.
Out of all the schools RKF visited, the ones we deemed most in need of our assistance were those located in the slums and rural areas; parts of the county where poverty is rife. We also noticed that many children in these schools would go hungry the whole day since their parents cannot afford lunch provided by the school (KES 20-40 or US$0.20 - $0.40) – which is available only if the school is guaranteed enough parents will pay. Uncertain about the source of their next meal and unable to concentrate in class, some children often resort to skipping school to fend for themselves. A feeding program in such schools does more than alleviate absenteeism and the effects of malnutrition.
Benefits of Feeding Programs Being Introduced to ECD Centres and Primary Schools:
Alleviates the health and developmental consequences of childhood malnutrition.
Higher school attendance & lower dropout rates.
Improved concentration and energy levels in students.
Burden off of parents’ & guardians’ shoulders.
Increased sales for local farmers and vendors.
In the long-term, the local community will begin to rise above poverty as more children complete their education.
Using the increased attendance to conduct annual health-checks.
While weighing the pros and cons of starting a feeding program, it became very clear that such a project will have a long-term positive impact that would not only benefit the students but also the parents, teachers, and local community. Our only concern was ensuring that the project was sustainable and that the school did not become completely dependent on us. At Soko Primary School, the beneficiary of RKF’s first feeding program, we gave part-ownership of the project to the school by letting them provide water, firewood, and the salary of the cooks. This initiative has led to parents providing cooking fat, local community members volunteering to cook, and the school looking into planting vegetables that they can consume with their daily meal of githeri (maize and beans). Our vision is to work towards making this a self-sustaining project and eventually transferring ownership of the feeding program to the school and local community.
Starting a school feeding program opens the door to a number of projects that will improve the overall health of students, which is one of RKF’s main priorities. Beginning with something as simple as teaching students the importance of maintaining good personal hygiene by washing their hands before and after they eat, we also intend on using the feeding program as a platform for performing annual health-checks and providing medicine, footwear, and clothes.
As we continue to find the most efficient method of sustaining the feeding program, what keeps pushing us forward is the immediate impact we have already made. Within the first week of starting our feeding program, a number of parents extended their gratitude to us now that they only have to worry about cooking one meal for their child. The school has also seen a rise in enrolments and the headmaster informed us about the students being more active in the classroom. The responsibility of providing school lunch for over a hundred children can be overwhelming at times, but with the unyielding support of our donors and well-wishers we believe this is just the beginning of something special.