The benefits of a daily hot meal
We run eight feeding centres in central Kenya; each is located alongside a primary school in a deprived community. This is the story of one of them: a government run school that serves pupils from an extremely poor rural community with high unemployment and many social issues. The children are not allowed to go home for lunch because many walk from villages located far from the school, so the school management decided ALL the children should bring food for lunch to school. This means the food carried to school is usually eaten cold because parents cannot afford to buy thermos flasks that could keep their food warm.
The school Head realised that there were some pupils that never brought any food for lunch. These children would stay hungry the whole day making their concentration in class very low and causing them to have many more health issues. Social workers from Kenya Children Centres (KCC) frequently visited children from this school because they had been re-homed with relatives after living at our children’s home. The school asked our social workers if we could begin a lunch program in the school.
Our team carried out more detailed due diligence during October 2019 to select the most vulnerable and needy children. They carried out interviews with the Head, the teachers, church leaders, local officials, and the families of the vulnerable children at the school. They were also given access to school records and accounts. As well as severe poverty, they identified many cases of child negligence, addiction, and malnutrition.
A simple kitchen was completed with the help of local volunteers during December 2019. A cook was recruited, and she assumed responsibility for establishing a vegetable plot to provide ingredients for the lunches. The plot provides an opportunity for pupils to learn horticultural and self-sufficiency skills by helping to till, plant and weed the vegetables. The school is fortunate to have piped water, which can be used to irrigate the vegetables. The school also has trees on its land, which provide firewood for the kitchen stove – an important benefit in Kenya.
Our social workers and the teachers identified 67 children that were assessed to be the most vulnerable and would benefit most from a free daily meal. Each child receives a hot daily meal of maize and beans with added vegetables including onions and tomatoes as well as bananas and other vegetables when they become available. These children survive on that single meal because their parents/guardians are unable to secure casual jobs on local farms or plantations and the families cannot afford to buy food.
The individual needs of the most vulnerable children vary but most of these families receive additional support from our team, including school uniforms and books, healthcare, and clothing. Some parents and children receive individual counselling and advice on parenting. In some cases, we provide seeds, building materials and micro-loans to help them generate an income with the aim of making them self-sufficient and able to support their children themselves in future.
Our social worker delivers beans, vegetables, and maize every week. She helps the cooks with any problems and checks on the progress of the children. Our counsellor provides counselling for children when it is required.
The social worker measures the weight and height of each of the children at the start and finish of each term. The first measurements taken at the start of the project identified 41 children that were classified as underweight with a BMI of less than 17.5. Some children had a BMI as low as 13 and 56 had a BMI below 20. They also collect data about the children’s attendance, academic performance, and wellbeing. The initial measurements are the baseline to assess improvements delivered by the feeding project.
The data collected shows that all the children improved against their baseline measurements and that they have achieved improvements in four areas:
- Health – 82% of the beneficiaries moved from underweight to normal weight and 87% recorded an overall improvement in their health.
- Improvement in their academic performances – The beneficiaries are now able to concentrate in class especially in the afternoon and this has improved their academic performance. This is evident in their termly exam marks and assessment by their form teachers. 43% have made improvements in their academic performance since the start of the year.
- Reduced absenteeism/truancy cases – Some pupils used to miss school because they were either too hungry to walk to school or they would search for casual jobs hoping to make money to buy food for themselves. This is now a thing of the past and 38% of the children on the programme with a poor record improved their attendance during the year. The school has achieved 99% attendance, an important measure of success for the school.
- Wellbeing – The children look forward to their hot lunches and rush to the kitchen to get their meal every day. It is difficult to describe the excitement a child experiences from a guaranteed daily meal after they have suffered starvation. Although difficult to quantify, their general wellbeing is much improved. The majority are happier, less temperamental, socialise more easily and enjoy their time in school. Teachers identified 50% of the children had improved their general attitude in school. A few children have serious domestic issues, and these are being helped individually by our counsellor.
The feeding programme has expanded each year and now supports almost 100 children. The Head and the teachers at the school believe it has transformed the lives of these needy children. As a result, we have been able to raise funds to start similar projects at seven additional schools in deprived rural and slum communities, impacting the lives of more than 1,000 destitute children.
Children in their final primary year take National exams, which decide the level of high school that they attend. The children have performed better in these exams than would have been possible before the feeding programme and this offers them a much brighter future. They have a real chance of becoming self-sufficient wage earners and breaking the cycle of poverty if they have their own children.