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School meals promoting class attendance

Written by  Yankho Phiri - MANA

It is another day and beautiful morning in Kasungu. School-going children are excited to spend another day at school knowing they will find something to eat before their lessons.


Gift Mwanza, a Standard six learner at Boma Primary School in the district, is one of children eagerly looking forward to the day.


He says one of the reasons that keep him attending classes is the meal he gets at school.


“I go early in the morning because I know that I will find something to eat as a breakfast there. I make sure I attend classes daily,” says Mwanza.


The boy and other primary school learners are benefitting from a programme that is encouraging many children acquire education.


School Feeding Programme (SFP) is an initiative by the Malawi Government with support from World Food Programme (WFP) and Mary’s Meal.


It was introduced as an emergency programme in 2003 to rescue learners from hunger crisis that affected the country.


The food crisis caused a high absent rate among learners especially the girl child in primary schools.


Through the programme, different primary schools across the country receive porridge, which is cooked by mixing corn soya blend, flour from soya bean and maize plus several other food additives.


Since the programme rolled out, it has been a motivation to learners who are given porridge between 6am and 7am.


Apart from motivating the children to go to school, the initiative has other benefits.


Children get the much-needed nutrients from the corn Soya bean blend and other supplementary food that they are given.


Head teacher at Boma Primary School Albert Nkhako says the meal gives the children energy, which make them active and attentive in class. The children also benefit from essential food nutrients.


“Our learners are benefiting healthwise because of the food nutrients found in the meal,” says Nkhako.


He adds that punctuality and enrollment has also improved.


Kasungu School Healthy and Nutrition (SHN) Coordinator Florence Kasiya, who has been at the centre of school feeding programme since 2004, has only kind words for the initiative.


She says that during the 2004 food crisis, many learners – especially girls - were not going to school. They were forced to stay at home and nurse siblings while their parents went to search for food, a situation that affected school enrolment.


But the coming of the school feeding initiative has banished that problem to the past.


“It has been really a good programme in education especially in the increase of enrolment in schools and active participation of learners in class,” Kasiya says.


Figures on the ground show that there has been a steady increase in enrolment and attendance in schools under this programme in Kasungu.


Enrolment in the past decade has almost doubled from 145,000 to 286, 420 learners. Kasungu has 367 primary schools.


Previously when the program had just started, students were receiving meals at the end of classes.


But the Ministry of Education found that arrangement awkward and not unfriendly. The reason was that learners were losing interest in lessons since their minds were focused on when to receive the meals after classes.


So WFP and Mary Meals changed the time table putting it before classes.


“This resulted in a surge in numbers of children attending classes,” Kasiya says.


The current approach of giving children their meals in the morning before classes is also improving timely turn up, with most children being punctual when coming to school.


Kasiya says: “Previously, when food was given at the end of classes, many children were coming late to classes. But that is no longer the case now.”


The new approach is also good because it keeps attention and energy levels of children high during classes.


Over the years, the programme has had a fair share of challenges including erratic flow of funds that has always threatened the sustainability of the initiative.


But in 2010, education authorities and communities came up with an alternative of keeping SFP running. This was by encouraging communities to grow crops like soybean and maize to support the programme.


This new initiative is branded as homegrown, according to Kasiya.


Now SFP comes in two categories; the central feeding programme funded by WFP and Mary’s Meal and the home grown run by the communities and partly supported the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO).


At the moment, the German International Cooperation (GIZ) and European Union (EU) are also supporting SFP by constructing kitchens in schools that did not have one.


The two donor agencies are further supporting the establishment of fruit orchards in schools, another initiative that will complement the provision of meals.


With over 280, 000 children at primary school, Kasungu is hopeful that SFP will continue building a proper foundation of education for the majority of children in the district.


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