Life in a Guinean village
From heavily stricken by Ebola to hope. For school children, for farmers.
THE ROAD TO KABIETA
Thick, threatening clouds cover up the sun this mid-morning of November. The cool wind reminds me that we are in the high plains of Guinea.
Kabieta village is a few kilometers from Nzerekoré town, in the south-east region of the country. I am fascinated by the scenes of every day life that unfold before me.
In the heart of a tall forest, which encircles the village, stands Kabieta’s elementary school. Some 420 children, of which 208 are girls, go to the school this year. An increase from 338, of which 180 girls, from the previous school year.
The principal of the school, Matthieu Loua warmly welcomes us. I see some women walking energetically in the schoolyard. They are preparing the meals for the children. It is 10 am.
WFP has school meals in 1,605 schools across Guinea; 281 of them are in the Nzerekoré region.
This region was particularly hit by Ebola and school meals were halted. When they resumed in October 2015, parents and their children were relieved.
Just a few meters from the classrooms, the school built a warehouse where the food distributed by WFP is stocked. Inside, three women are carefully weighting different food items that will be used for today’s meal.
Finally, the sun won its battle. It is up and bright over a clear, light blue sky. The cooks head to the open kitchen. They are all set to start cooking. Today’s menu? Rice with corn!
IT ALL BEGINGS IN GOUECKE
The rice used to prepare the meals is produced by a group of women farmers. They are located a few kilometers from Kabieta, in Gouécké. Overall, there are 9 group of women farmers in the region. By the end of December, they will have delivered 1,166 metric tons of rice to 344 schools across the region.
Gouécké is similar to Kabieta, but the forest that surrounds the village seems denser. I am welcomed in the paddy fields by Anna Lamah. She is in charge of the association of women rice farmers.
“We are 100 women rice farmers in the association and each one of us is proud to support our children” says Anna (below).
Anna cheerfully starts a song to encourage her fellow colleagues. They all start singing while collecting the rice. I am humbled to see these women working in very hard conditions to provide food to their children and develop their communities.
To alleviate their work, so that they don’t have to carry heavy loads and to find storage, WFP provided them with tents where they can stock their rice as soon as is harvested. Motorcyles will also be bought to transport the rice from paddy fields to the village.
“This job is a way for us to invest in the future of our children,” adds Anna.
The women want to produce more rice. They have already increased their production from 702 tons last year to 1,166 tons this year. Not only do they feed Guinea’s future, they also generate enough money to take care of themselves and their families. They have become more independent and confident in their future.
LUNCH IS SERVED
It’s 12 pm. The rice is ready to be served and the final touches are being added to the sauce.
I can hear in the distance the voice of the children as they are stepping outside their classrooms. They sound excited.
Cecile Haba, one of the cooks, is making sure that every child has enough food on their plates.
“I am very happy to contribute to children’s education. We are also very happy of the support provided by WFP,” says Cecile.
Enrollment rates have increased in Kabieta and in the region. Thanks to school meals, parents are more encouraged to register their children at school.
Sitting on outdoor benches, in a covered area, the kids can hardly hide their satisfaction as they get ready to take their first bites.
“This is one of my favorite moments of the day. I can eat with my friends and the food makes me happy and strong” says Gnéreké, his eyes lightening up.
“We have the best cooks of the village! The food is delicious,” adds Martine, a cheeky smile on her face.
Every classroom has 10 minutes to take its meal. You would think that the noise would be unbearable, but everything is done in good order.
“ Everyday we do our best to provide food to our children in the best conditions possible. It requires organization and patience,” declares Matthieu.
It’s time to say goodbye. I cannot help but feel encouraged by the dedication of this village. Together, cooks and farmers and parents, they have all contributed to the success of the school meals programme in a region that is still healing from the wounds inflicted by Ebola.
THE FUTURE OF SCHOOL MEALS
WFP needs urgent funding to continue its school meals programme for this academic year in Guinea. US$5 million is required to support 111,000 children for the 2016/2017 school year.
Due to financial constraints, WFP had to reduce its school meals from five meals to four meals per week, and it has not been able to distribute full and frequent take-home rations to girls and their families.
WFP’s key supporter of the home-grown school meals, take-home food rations and Purchase for progress (rice purchased for school meals) programmes is the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
FOOTNOTES: Story and photos by Simon Pierre Diouf/WFP