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Transforming Communities with School Breakfast

Who would have thought that children still attended school without shoes? But there they were, enjoying themselves at play and oblivious to the fact that they were shoeless. Soon they were tired even before the bell rang for the start of classes. The teachers complained that they were now too tired to concentrate and learn as most of them came to school without breakfast and the school had nothing to offer them.

This school was selected as an underperforming school that should receive help with a breakfast programme. The Principal was pleased with this but had doubts that anything could be accomplished. “You are only giving money for food,” she said, “who will cook the food and with what?” The kitchen was the size of a ‘match box’ with one window,
broken cupboards, a malfunctioning stove and no refrigerator, and there were few
utensils.

She was told, “We plan to involve the parents and community”. At this, she laughed, “the parents have no interest in the school; they only send their children here because they can’t do better, and those who can afford it send their children to the big school in town”.

Involving the Community in Breakfast Feeding

Training in health and nutrition, programme planning skills and income generation started soon after. Parents were invited to attend twice per week for three hours per evening. The parents participated enthusiastically, and on completion, they willingly volunteered to assist with cooking, sharing and cleaning up. They even asked to have a formal graduation with the presentation of certificates. When asked about the expense, one parent replied, “It is the first time I going to graduate from anywhere. I thought me head was tough and couldn’t learn, but I understand everything and feel good about myself. Me child head maybe not tough either, and he could learn too”.   

The parents came regularly and even assisted the teachers in planning the meals, preparing the shopping lists and budget and generally helping with whatever else was required. The once underweight students now gained weight, and the teachers now described them as more alert and participative in class. The group had prepared a programme plan during the training, listing their vision for the school, the objectives for the breakfast programme, and the activities involved. The parents were placed on a roster to assist at different times. The school was now always bustling with activity. The parents started to show more interest in attending PTA meetings and helping their children in learning.

School transformation

During the training, the parents were shown how to write proposals. With assistance, they were able to secure funds to refurbish the kitchen. They received donations of a new stove, refrigerator and utensils. A new Principal to the school was impressed with what he saw and pledged to continue the transformation. He secured shoes from relatives abroad and held a fair so that parents could legitimately purchase the shoes at minimal prices, thus not offending their pride. The Principal mobilized the men in the community and started a school garden. This not only provided food for the meals, but the excess was sold outside the community to raise funds applied to painting and repairing furniture. The Principal soon secured further funds to transform the pit toilets into proper flushing toilets to everyone’s delight. Very soon, school enrollment increased, and students’ academic performance improved as parents now saw the school as a desirable place to send their children.

Lessons Learnt

Many schools have a problem with attendance at PTA meetings, and parents’ reasons are that the proceedings are boring and not relevant to them. Food is everybody’s business and activities involving food, cooking and eating are the surest way to interest persons in becoming involved. Parents feel confident in their skills at feeding their children and will volunteer for this. Once captured, they will expand their horizons for greater involvement in the school and education.   

Many organizations are now promoting the community approach to school feeding. It is not good enough to give only money for food, but we must empower communities through training to help provide for themselves. The concept of the nutrition-friendly school promotes both school and community development by enhancing the total school nutrition environment, including policy, capacity building for staff and parents, lifestyle programmes, and school feeding services.

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