“Without food we cannot learn!” is Janet’s confident reply to her teacher as she asks the 70 children of ClassA3 about the importance of school meals. All the pupils at Atomic D, a school on the outskirts of Accra, Ghana, are given daily school meals.
The meals make a big difference and Janet is one of the lucky ones - every day sixty million children go to school hungry in developing countries. Children that don’t eat don’t learn. In addition to this, 600 million children have reduced access to education and poor health due to entirely preventable parasite worm infections.
In the same communities, smallholder farmers, often unable to reach a market, struggle to make a living selling their food. The solution is clear: local food for local children - Home Grown School Feeding Programs (GSFP) which look after the health and wealth of the whole community.
In partnership with the Partnership for Child Development (PCD), a global leader in the field of school health and nutrition programs, Dubai Cares is supporting the Government of Ghana to improve the education, health and nutrition of over 300,000 school age children living in poverty and food insecurity. At the same time, the program is providing farmer communities with reliable markets to sell their produce.
School health and nutrition interventions have been shown to improve not only children’s health and nutrition, but also their learning potential and life choices both in the short- and long-term. As such, these interventions are recognized as making a significant contribution towards countries’ efforts to achieve Education for All and their Millennium Development Goals.
In Africa, the Government of Ghana is at the forefront of developing programs which tackle these issues. The GSFP began as a pilot in 10 schools in late 2005 and since has progressively grown to serve 4500 schools and 1,600,000 pupils in 170 districts. Before the GSFP, students used to pay for their meals. Those who could not afford their food either borrowed money or stayed without food.
As recalled by Janet’s classmate Isaac “…without school meals, some pupils can faint in class. Others start stealing their friends’ money, or even stop going to school…”
Dubai Cares, with the support of PCD, is working with the GSFP to improve the nutritional quality of the food being provided, ensuring that the nutrition requirements for energy, protein, vitamins A and C, Iron, Zinc and iodine of children 7-10 years old can be met using a variety of foods.
An integrated approach
Along with their daily meals, through the Dubai Cares’ funded program, Janet, Isaac and their classmates are given deworming medication under the national deworming intervention. Along with the dissemination of deworming medication, pupils in the class are educated on good hygienic practices to avoid worm infections.
Children and their parents are also provided with training and advice on nutritious foods, which in turn will influence what is grown in the local fields and what will end up in the children’s school meals. The 4-year program provides an intergraded approach to improving the nutrition, health, education and ultimately the welfare of the local communities.
Based on the enthusiasm of the children of Atomic D, the training is falling on fertile ground. When asked about the importance of nutritious food, children unanimously say that “It gives us energy!” The aim of Dubai Cares’ support is to help the local economy feel this same energetic vigor.