Africa: Reopened schools in São Tomé and Príncipe restore hope
World Food Programme and Unicef collaborate to assist vulnerable communities
By Alessandro Valori
“Each day, I share a meal with my students to foster a sense of community, and seeing them smile makes me very happy,” says Paul Jorge, the Director of the school of Batep’a, in São Tomé and Príncipe, Africa’s second smallest country — an island nation inhabited by just over 215,000 people.
“I tell them how the food arrived on their plates, and how the kitchen helpers have prepared their meal with the best ingredients available. Like education, nutrition is a social process. It’s development. It’s our life.”
The islands of São Tomé and Príncipe sit in the Gulf of Guinea off the continent’s western coast and are as prone to climate shocks and the ravages of COVID-19 as countries on the mainland.
Many schools, which shut down in March, reopened in September with help from the World Food Programme (WFP) working with UNICEF.
Emitonila de Sosa Lima, a mother and a teacher at the Batep’a school, empathizes with other parents who can’t afford to feed their children at home. School for them is a place a child is guaranteed one meal.
“Many children leave home without eating breakfast each morning and you can’t help but notice them in the classroom,” she says. “The child’s body is in the room, but their mind is not present. Children need a hot meal each day because when their belly becomes full, their concentration improves and they’re able to learn.”
With limited land surface and a small workforce, the nation struggles with economic diversification and suffers in areas like agriculture, transportation and infrastructure. And its remoteness means it faces an additional burden of high import costs, limiting the population’s access to nutritious food.
The reopening of the Batep’a school is welcomed by staff, including Wilkson das Neves, the school gardener, and Adelaide Patrício, a kitchen helper who uses produce from the school’s garden to prepare a nutritious lunch for the students each day.
“During the pandemic, we could not go to the market, see the children and our colleagues. I could not come to school to light the chimney and start preparing the food,” she says. “The children know that when smoke comes out of the chimney, there will be food waiting for them at school. And parents know that when smoke comes out of the chimney, their children will be fed that day. They are motivated to bring their children to school.”
From June to August, WFP helped deliver 5,500 food baskets to the most vulnerable families in São Tomé and Príncipe. And now with the reopening of the schools, 20,000 more children will be able to receive a hot meal until the end of the school year thanks to WFP’s school feeding program in the country.