Of maize and moles and celebrating a cookhouse

By Julia Heckbert

This week we finished up our last school meal assessments for the summer!

Starting with Muruguma Primary School earlier in the week, we came face to face with some interesting challenges. Since we arrived at the school during the last week of school, we learned that they had run out of beans for the children’s lunches and only had maize flour left for the uji.

The day before, the lovely deputy head teacher had gone out and personally purchased 20kg of beans to get the school through the next week. This meant that fewer beans would be going into the githeri at lunchtime and polished maize was used instead of whole-grain maize (we recommend that latter since it is more nutritious). We were told that the polished maize expands more when cooked compared to the whole grain and would therefore be able to feed more students and keep them full. Even though the lunch would provide fewer nutrients, the school was doing the best they could with the resources available. 

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(Picture 1: Students lining up at the cookhouse at Muruguma Primary to be served)

In between the serving of uji and githeri, we watched as some older students secured a trap outside of the screenhouse that has been provided by Farmers Helping Farmers. The school had been having trouble with moles digging under the screenhouse and eating the vegetables, so they planned to trap the pest. As Steven Mwenda (FHF staff) tried to explain how the trap worked, the students dug holes and wet the soil to secure the line of a tube with mud using a potato as bait.

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(Picture 2: One of the students building a trap to catch moles in the garden)

Although the trap may not be the most humane, it was a clever way to use the resources available and ensure that the vegetables would no longer be consumed by animals. Both I and Haley had never seen a mole and we were fascinated with this new skill the students seem to possess.

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(Picture 3: Steven Mwenda and the students explaining to Haley how the trap works)

During this last week of school, students and teachers were busy writing and marking exams. On top of that, the school was also building new toilets for the students. It was interesting to see how they were being built because they are nothing like those in Canada. In this community, most people have toilets that consist of a hole in the ground with a shack built around it. This particular set of toilets was a mixture of cement and wood but ultimately has the same design.

Having latrines (toilets) and handwashing stations at schools (which FHF has installed at some schools) is so very important since it helps reduce the number of children that have parasites (worms). Children who contract worms can lose as much as 30% of the nutritional value of their food, so it is really important to do try and reduce the number affected by worms.

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(Picture 4: New student toilets under construction)

While assessing the meals at our last school (Michogomone), we were able to see the new cookhouse that was almost finished being built!

The men building the structure were hard at work finishing up in order to open the cookhouse for the beginning of August. It is exciting to know that the students and the cooks will benefit from this cookhouse, which is funded through the Souris Village Feast!

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(Picture 5: The new cookhouse under construction at Michogomone)

After visiting many schools, it has become very routine to measure the ingredients and pots being used in the cookhouse. We have even managed to pick up some words in Kimeru and Kiswahili in order to help us be understood when talking to cooks. We are always happy to see cooks adding leafy greens to the githeri. At Michogomone, both kale and a new green we have not seen (Russian Comfrey) were used in the meal.

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(Picture 6: The cook (Sarah) washing the leafy greens in preparation for cooking)

When talking with the headteacher, we learned that they use the maize and beans grown on the school farm in order to supplement parental contributions to the meal program. This was great news!

When the school is able to provide some maize and beans for the meals on their own, it reduces the demand on parents to provide as much, which is particularly important during dry seasons when food is scarce at home. Hopefully, the school will be able to produce even more crops for their school!

Since we have now finished up our assessments, we will be focusing on the completion of our home interviews for the remainder of the summer. We have learned a lot from visiting the different schools and have begun to understand the challenges they face. Every person we have talked to has expressed great appreciation for the support of Farmers Helping Farmers and have graciously welcomed us into their schools. It has been a great learning experience and we have hopefully helped some schools along the way to make small dietary changes in order to ensure students are getting the best possible meals at school!

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