By Julia Heckbert
UPEI nutrition student
Queen Elizabeth Scholar
This week we were able to visit two new schools that Farmers Helping Farmers are beginning to work with. Up first on our list was Kibirichia Primary School! The school administrators were very welcoming and we got started right away measuring the porridge in their cookhouse. We were grateful for the large chimney, so the smoke didn’t fill the room. There was also a serving shelf that opened up to a sheltered dining room where the students could enjoy their uji and githeri.
Githeri ready to be served through the opening of the kitchen to the dining room
The cook was very accommodating and the students seemed to respect him. Since his assistant cook was away, he recruited some older students to help cook and clean. We were very impressed with how responsible they were! The porridge and githeri were served without a hitch and the students were very excited to see us in their cookhouse.
Young students enjoying their uji in the dining room
By talking to the teachers, we learned that they have great support from the parents and have been added vegetables to their githeri when they are available. This was great to hear!
Maritati Primary was the second school we visited this week. Although the school had recently been relocated to a brand new campus, they were still using their old smokey cookhouses. One was designated for porridge and one for githeri. As per usual, we jumped in and out of the cookhouses to take measurements to prevent excessive smoke inhalation. The porridge made was less than usual because almost 20 students were absent that day. The young students that were present chugged down their portions and immediately dropped their cups into a bucket. As soon as they were done they sprinted for the playground. No matter where you are from, kids first priority is always to play!
While we waited for the githeri to be served, we were visited by the two school cows. One chose to drink from the bucket of soaking porridge containers, while the other was given a drink by the cook.
Cows drinking beside the cookhouses
As the students came to line up for lunch, they swatted the cows away like it was nothing. This was clearly an everyday occurrence. Over 400 students lined up in front of the cookhouse at lunchtime and we realized this was going to take a while.
Students forming lines to receive their githeri at lunchtime
When we asked the teachers whether there were different portion sizes for the smaller students, they simply replied that each parent contributed equally, so each student received the same amount.
Nursery students with their large bowls of githeri
As it turns out, we had arrived on a day that the teachers were to double check which students had contributed to the meal program. This involved manually checking a list and going through the students one by one to see if their parent had given maize or beans to the school. Apparently, this is done every few weeks and we just happened to be there that day. We were a little taken aback to watch almost 100 students be denied lunch because their parents had not contributed to the program. As awful as it was to watch the disappointed faces on the children turned away, we also understood the reasons behind the act. It would be unfair to let everyone eat regardless of their contribution because the parents supplying the maize and beans were doing so for their own children: some schools don’t have extra food or resources to provide meals for every student. Even though this may seem shocking, I was not surprised given our conversations with other schools. There are some parents that do not want their children’s school to have a meal program because it requires more money and resources from them. Some are unable to provide that extra money because they are already struggling to pay for school uniforms and books. Some may not have maize and beans to donate due to drought and associated crop failures. Unfortunately, this also happens in Canada. As many as one in five children in PEI live in food insecure homes, meaning that parents may not be able to afford to provide a nutritious lunch for their children who are left with minimal meals or nothing at all. Regardless of whether we are talking about Kenya or Canada, it is extremely difficult for children to do well in school without having a proper meal. While Haley and I were disappointed to see that not all children at Maritati were being served, it gave us insight into the very real challenges that these schools face and the hardships that children must overcome in order to be successful in school. It also reminded us that it is critical to work to address the poverty that underlies this whole issue in order to improve children’s nutrition and their quality of life.
As we return to these schools next week to give them our feedback and discuss future goals, we plan to stress the importance of the meal program and give the school a much deserved congratulations for providing food to their students. Not all schools are following their lead, but we are happy to see that the message is spreading and more and more schools are adopting a meal program! They know that if they do, their children will be healthier, happier and will do better academically.
We are almost finished with our school assessments and have learned a lot from our experiences. Hopefully in the future, each of the schools we have visited will continue to improve and thrive with the continued support of Farmers Helping Farmers!