Every individual has their vision of what for them would be the ideal world.
For me, my ideal world is largely influenced by my recent interaction with the school communities.
If I were to envision a new world order today, it would be one where there is equity in education, every child would have access to clean water, health care, a safe learning environment and wholesome meals.
Unfortunately, as we visit the Amara supported primary schools, I am struck by the harsh realities that the most vulnerable of our society have to contend with in their day-to-day lives. Food security remains an issue and the situation has deteriorated rapidly with the recent drought and rising cost of staple food stuff. As the draught conditions persist in some parts of the country, we are faced with acute food shortages, and these communities are often the hardest hit with children being the most affected.
In September, the World Food Program projected that the number of people in need of urgent food aid, between October and December 2022 would rise to 4.4 million with a record 1.2 million people facing emergency levels of food scarcity. This is even as Zero Hunger remains one of the Government’s “BIG FOUR” priorities. Over one-third of the population still lives below the international poverty threshold. In rural areas, 29% of children are affected by malnutrition, while in cities this number is 20%. In the 2022 Global Hunger Index, Kenya is ranked 94 out of 121 countries, indicating just how serious the food crisis really is.
Even as we seek to address food insecurity in the communities we work with, I was surprised to learn that food insecurity was a growing problem in America. Hunger remains near the top of societal problems and according to the USDA, 38.3 million people live in food in-secure households in the United States.
Food security is not a problem that will go away any time soon, probably not even in my lifetime. So, we can bemoan the situation and wait for the Government to step in or we can do something about it.
Amara Charitable Trust decided to take action and bring about change, one meal at a time!
In 2013, during a visit to Kwa Kalusya Primary School, Smita Shah, a Trustee and trained Nutritionist was deeply distressed to see the physical state of the young children in the school. Due to being so malnourished, most were affected by stunted growth, absenteeism, low enrolment, lethargy and poor concentration. She believes that access to wholesome nutrition is the birth right of every child. Her ideal world would most probably be one where there is an abundance of food and no child ever goes hungry!
Smita was motivated to start a feeding program at Kwa Kalusya Primary School. Undeterred by cynics, and with very limited resources, she encouraged Amara to launch a pilot project serving porridge to eighty students which was the entire population at the school. The impact was almost immediate: the school reported increased enrolment, better student retention, improved grades and happier, healthy children.
Encouraged by the positive impact, similar programs were rolled out in other Amara supported primary schools. Today, Amara’s Feeding Program provides close to 5700 hot lunches daily at 7 primary schools.
During a visit to Kanaani Primary School the Feeding Program was underway and the excitement was palpable. While we got caught up in the excitement, it was heart-rendering to see some children eating only a portion of their lunch and saving some to take home to their family. According to their teacher, this was a common practice. It was difficult to see a situation where a young child has to make a decision between eating all his or her lunch or saving some for a sibling or family member back home. Really makes one stop and think about all the times we have wasted food without a second thought.
The program is aligned to our mission which is to: Educate, Empower and Enhance the lives of marginalised young people living in rural Kenya, especially those in under-serviced communities. By providing a simple meal of maize and beans, we have eliminated the food-related barriers holding back marginalised communities from accessing education. When cash resources are limited, a parent has to make a difficult decision between paying school fees and buying food.
Buying food for the family will always take priority and rightly so but often to the detriment of a school going child who has to drop out of school altogether or go out to scour for food scrapes at dumpsites, leading to prolonged absenteeism. In some situations, children are sent out to look for plastic or metal waste which is then sold for money for food. Young girls put themselves at risk when faced with the option of going hungry or soliciting money for food through unacceptable means.
The Feeding Program has had unforeseen benefits in the school communities where promise of, what may be the only meal of the day, encourages children to attend school and thereby get an education. Getting an education is key for these communities if they are to end the cycle of poverty. The feeding program has also alleviated some of the financial burdens these families struggle with on a daily basis.
Local women run businesses have benefited indirectly from the program by becoming regular suppliers of the grains.
Where possible and, in order to reduce the school’s dependence on food aid, kitchen gardens have been started in schools that have land and access to water. The school fraternity and parents are encouraged to assist with maintaining the vegetable gardens.
In addition to the kitchen gardens, Kanaani Primary School, keep poultry and rabbits which they sell to raise money to support the feeding program. It is encouraging to see the school working towards self-reliance.
We have seen exponential growth in student populations across all 7 schools since 2013. At Kanaani Primary School the population in 2013 was 550. Today, we provide 1067 students with lunch every day. Due to this we organise regular fund-raisers and food appeals to keep up with the rising cost of sustaining the program in the schools.
Fortunately, we have been blessed with many generous donors and we remain grateful to them for their support to our Feeding Program.
We hope our Feeding Program will continue to create equitable learning opportunities for the communities that need it most and inspire the change and action needed.
I will end this blog post with a thought-provoking quote.
“I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.” – Martin Luther King Jr.