Companies fight hunger in schools

13 March 2015
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Learners from the HTS, Frans Indongo Primary school and Otjomuise Primary school could not hide their excitement during the first-ever International School Meals Day commemoration in Namibia on Thursday last week.

The learners sang and danced as various companies, in collaboration with the ministry of education (MOE), pledged thousands of dollars and donated plates to the school feeding programmes.

The donors handed over 3,000 plates and roughly N$10,000 in cash at the commemoration which took place at the University of Namibia’s main campus.

Officer-in-charge of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Namibia Jennifer Bitonde explained that school feeding programmes are an essential tool in the development and growth of children, communities and societies as a whole.

WFP provides meals to over 20 million children annually.

“In some countries, including Namibia, the WFP has assisted national governments take full ownership of the school feeding programme.

“School feeding programmes that are fully funded and run by national governments support an estimated 337 million students,” Bitonde noted.

Hunger often suppresses learners’ cognitive functions and attention span and causes micronutrient deficiency, which is why it is not uncommon that children who go to school hungry fall asleep in class and fail.

The WFP estimates that 66 million children go to school hungry in developing countries, with 23 million of that number living in Africa.

Bitonde added that countries could potentially boost the income of local communities if they link school feeding programmes to local food production.

“It (the school feeding programme) can provide regular market opportunity and a reliable source of income for smallholder farmers…the food is purchased directly from the local farming community to boost local economies,” she explained.

Romandi, the head girl of Otjomuise Primary school, took to the stage to express gratitude on behalf of her fellow learners who benefited from the school feeding programme.

She said most of her schoolmates attended school on an empty stomach, not knowing where their next meal would come from.

They either dozed off during lessons or cut class, but because of the school feeding programme they have something to eat and can concentrate on their studies.

Pomwenepawa Shuudikilwa from Frans Indongo Primary school situated in the Babylon informal settlement also spoke at the event.

He said most parents of the 1,342 students at the school were unable to provide regular meals to their children as a result of financial difficulties.

“Food is scarce at home and most children have to drop out of school to sell stuff on the streets to earn money to buy food or they just drop out because they cannot concentrate…Nutrition is necessary for a growing child,” he said before he thanked all the donors for their contributions.

Speaking on behalf of the ministry of education permanent secretary Alfred Ilukena, the director of programme quality assurance in the ministry Eda Bohn commended the private sector for their contributions.

Bohn said Government had committed itself to improving the lives of citizens through the delivery of vital services, and the school feeding programme was one of those services.

She however, pointed out that the programme alone was not enough, and urged parents to make sure that their children have food waiting for them when they go home.

Touching on Bitonde’s call for smallholder farmers to link to the school feeding programmes, Bohn said that the ministry and its partners had started looking into the feasibility of linking up with local smallholder farmers.

“We must recognise that our school feeding programme is an investment and not expenditure,” she pointed out.

Driving home this point, Bohn gave an example of a study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group in Kenya and Laos that showed that an investment of US$1 per child on average yielded a return of US$16 and US$7 in the two countries respectively over a lifetime.

Over 70 percent of Namibian learners benefit from the school feeding programme.

“If we can ensure that these learners progress through their education without having to worry about hunger, we could make a lot of progress towards realising our Vision 2030 of a healthy and prosperous nation,” she said.

Apart from MOE and WFP, other main sponsors of the feeding programme include Nutrifood, Independence Caterers, Heritage Caterers and Seal Caterers.
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