Kenya: School Feeding Program Keeps Children in School

(by James Okong’o) - Nairobi, 18. October 2017

In order to improve food security during this food shortage era caused by a prolonged drought in West Turkana, AICHM in partnership with Johanniter has set up a food intervention program targeting affected children of ages five to fourteen who were excluded from other humanitarian food based responses. Provided basic meals at schools not only preserve them from hunger, but also increase the influx of pupils joining schools.

Children at Arid Zone Primary School in Kakuma queue every day for their lunch. For many it is the single meal for a whole day. Foto: J. Okong´o/JUH

Hundreds of children at Arid Zone Primary School in Kakuma scramble at lunch time with bowls, plates and plastic lunch boxes of different sizes, shapes and colours. The pupils queue in a particular order, where children from the Early Childhood Development Education (ECDE) class are given first priority and served first, followed by hundreds of other pupils eagerly waiting for their turn. A middle aged woman, who works as a cook, is mixing the steaming githeri, boiled maize and beans, in a big sufuria just outside the kitchen. The hour finally comes, but the service is slow and takes long since it is only one person who is serving the pupils. Most of them are forced to eat in a hurry since much of the time has been spent waiting.

Day Scholars Survive on a Single Meal

The school has a boarding wing and accommodates boarding and day pupils. Boarders have the privilege of a three-piece meal a day that includes breakfast, lunch and dinner. On the other hand, the day scholars who come from their homes on a daily basis who are only entitled to lunch which is what is catered for under the School Feeding Programme (SFP). For the day scholars, the situation is even worse as a majority of them do not eat dinner or breakfast at home. Therefore most of them survive on this single meal for a whole day due to the prolonged drought and widespread poverty in the region. Every morning they go to school on empty stomachs. This also explains their request for increased bigger portions.

“We are grateful for bringing the food to us since it contributes towards keeping us in school”, says one of the senior students. “However, we are requesting if the food portion per pupil could be increased.” Phillippe Carette, Country Director for Johanniter in Kenya, understands the request, but emphasizes the importance in keeping the food rations constant from one school to another and in line with the national guidelines. The current food rations were defined by the government in conjunction with the World Food Program (WFP). It is simply unthinkable how they were forced to adjust to hunger, but this is the fate that many children face in the larger Turkana County and most parts of arid and semi-arid Kenya. The drought worsened everything and has developed into a humanitarian crisis.

Food Support for more than 3000 Children

The government of Kenya declared in February this year the ongoing drought a national disaster (see more background information below) and appealed for support in its effort to contain the situation. Johanniter and its local partner organisation AICHM have ventured into the SFP, targeting 2,907 pupils from the wider Kakuma area and 200 street children for the next six months, who are orphaned or have abandoned schooling due to lack of food and adverse poverty. They all are from the Turkana community and aged between five to fourteen years, the target group are minors who starve and can’t take care of themselves. Kakuma Arid Zone and Kakuma Girls Primary Schools are well equipped to serve the street boys and girls who have infiltrated Kakuma town that also has other pupils from the community. The program also targets four other schools in Nasinyono and the wider Turkana West to give children access to food and to education as well.

Meals Keep Pupils in School

Since this program was started, the number of dropouts has gone down and we have been experiencing an influx of pupils who are joining the school,” confirms Mr. Isaac Vusenaa, deputy head teacher of Arid Zone Primary School. He says that it has helped to increase their enrolment.

School feeding programs have been implemented in Kenya since the early 1980s with varying degrees of success. The subsidized meal programs have played an integral part in realizing Kenya’s goal of universal primary education, underlined in Kenya’s vision 2030 where it is a requirement for every child of school going age to attain an education. Schools that provide meals show higher attendance rates and lower initial dropout rates than schools that do not. During the recent drought it has become an essential programme to survive for many children. Therefore, AICHM and Johanniter decided to intervene and further explore ways together with involved communities to make school feeding more sustainable on the long term.

Data from the Relief Web reveals that the number of food insecure people in Kenya more than doubled in 2017 from 1.3 million to 2.7 million. Some 357.285 children and pregnant and lactating mothers are acutely malnourished. The latest nutrition survey reveals that three sub-counties (Turkana North, North Hor (Marsabit), Mandera) had Global Acute Malnutrition (GAM) rates above 30 percent. Six sub-counties (Turkana Central, Turkana South, Turkana West, Laisamis, East Pokot (Baringo), Isiolo) had GAM rates between 15 and 29 percent.

Find more information about the deteriorating nutrition situation in Kenya here

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