‘Hunger has no ears’

School meals brighten the future of school children in Zambia.

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Blessings Sikwa is part of the school meals programme at Muoyo Primary school in Zambia. Photo: WFP

“Hunger has no ears,” says Blessings Sikwa, a 13-year-old student at Muoyo Primary school. The school is located in the sandy Nalolo district, 50 km from Mongu, the provincial capital of western Zambia. Poverty and hunger had once forced many children living in the district’s nearby villages to abandon school, but not anymore.

The Home- Grown School Meals Programme (HGSMP) has been able to provide a necessary lifeline. In Zambia’s rural areas — where children often walk more than 4 km a day to go to school — many fail to attend class. But by addressing hunger and nutrient deficiencies, school meals have helped keep children healthy, improve enrollment and keep children in school.

Blessings is among 200,000 school children benefiting from the school meals and fresh foods pilot that the World Food Programme (WFP) is supporting throughout the country. Since the introduction of the fresh foods pilot in 2016, Blessings and her friends have enjoyed a nutritious balanced diet full of green leafy vegetables, maize and cowpeas. The vegetables are sourced fresh from smallholder farmers within the community of the school.

“We eat fresh vegetables and learn about their nutritious value in class. They are delicious because they come fresh from the farmer the same day we eat them,” says Blessings.

In addition to offering a predictable market for smallholder farmers, the school meals stimulate sustainable rural development.

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A parent prepares fresh vegetables for students as part of their school menu in a temporary kitchen. Photo: WFP

A group of 12 smallholder farmers in Nalolo came together and decided to rent land, allowing them to grow and supply 35 kg of fresh foods to the school every day, after land disputes prevented the school from starting its own garden.

Muoyo Primary school’s Head teacher is now discussing the possibility of using adjacent land with the local sub- chief. If successful, the school will not only have its own garden to grow food for the students, it will teach students how to do so too.

At break-time, Blessings and her friends talk about the effects of hunger. “Hunger has no ears and that is the reason most children would drop out of school,” says Blessings. “You can’t concentrate or hear the teacher when you are hungry. Hunger stops you from listening and your ears stop functioning because your stomach is empty,” she adds.

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Blessings (center) interacts with other school going children during break time at Muoyo Primary school. Photo: WFP

The school prepares meals in a temporary make shift kitchen. One of the cooks cuts fresh vegetables while the other watches over a pot of boiling maize samp mixed with oil.

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A female cook at Muoyo Primary School prepares samp meal while PTA members inspect the preparation. Photo: WFP

Blessings helps the younger students in lower grades from 1 to 4 make proper queues and collect their food first. “I am a prefect in the school and I like to help the little ones, so that they eat first. They need the food more!” says a smiling Blessings.

She looks forward to the day the school will have a proper kitchen and canteen facilities. Her wish is not far-fetched: the school building committee has already approved the construction of a kitchen, dining facility and bigger storeroom. Building Committee Chairperson, Mubanga Kamuti says the new facilities will be ready to be used in September of this year.

School meals helps children receive an education and but also think about the future. When asked about the future, Blessings hopes to one day to become a teacher.

WFP is also providing technical support to the Government of Zambia to support over 800,000 school children in 32 districts — this helps ensure that school children in food-insecure areas have access to nutritious food throughout the school year.

World Food Programme Insight

Insight by The World Food Programme

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