Novembre 8, 2015

Back to basics: reading, writing and eating

Back to basics: reading, writing and eating

For far too many children in Kenya, hunger is not just a missed meal here and there. It is the reason they can hardly keep their eyes on the board; the reason they will not show up at school tomorrow.


According to researchers at Heinrich Böll Stiftung, around 48 per cent of Kenyans lives in poverty and over 40 per cent around 16 million people lacks sufficient food. Malnutrition among children under five stands at 16 per cent.


This is what keeps 24-year-old Wawira Njiru up at night.In Ruiru town, where she grew up, most of children of school-going age carried out manual labour. Their parents, mostly subsistence and semi-subsistence farmers, struggled to bring food on the table. So schooling was not exactly a priority. The few that went to school, did so empty-bellied, that the books – their parents hoped – were a distraction from hunger.


Ruiru Primary School’s Headteacher, Mr Mwangi JM, had already noticed the correlation between hunger and attention span. ‘I joined the faculty in 2008 and the school’s performance was below average, scoring a below 200 out of a possible 500 marks,’he said, you could see that the children were not attentive in class, some of them had nothing to bite from home because their parents had literally nothing to give them.


‘We would spot a number of children missing school and meet them in the streets begging; others had become porters at the supermarkets. I visited some of the homes and it was clear that the parents couldn’t sustain themselves either,he said.


Food 4 Education, a not for profit project, which Wawira began in 2012, to ‘sort of even the scales’ by ensuring that every child in her community has access to education.


In order to improve their chances for a brighter future, we started a feeding program to ensure that kids stayed in school and learned,she said.


While she was living in Adelaide, Australia, Wawira thought that a fundraising dinner would have boosted the need-for-food conversations. And it did. ‘We held a Kenyan-themed dinner and raised USD1680. Thanks to that first amount, we were able to secure an energy-saving stove, built a makeshift kitchen and started feeding 25 students.’


Since then, personal efforts and donations from well-wishers have kept the kitchen fires burning. Before the feeding program began, things were really tough but nowadays we are able to study and perform well,a student said. ‘I love playing football, but without anything in my stomach, I would shy away from the game. Now with the food I get from the program I have a lot of energy to play and study, too,’another student said.


Three years down the line, Wawira continues to champion the cause of learning at school. She has gradually developed other forms of interventions in the hope of securing a meaningful future for the students in Ruiru Primary School. Along with some friends, she started a mentorship program in order to help students to develop projects for the future. For instance, now, fourteen-year-old Monica, who will be sitting for her final examinations in the next few weeks, knows what career to pursue. Her notable love for buildings has been translated into a tangible prospect when the mentorship program made possible for her to meet an architect on site.


Previously, only a handful of students in Ruiru Primary School would score good enough to secure a place in the nearby secondary schools. In the last few years, the narrative has changed. Furthermore, Food 4 Education does more by securing scholarships for the well-performing ones.


By working closely with the Education office in Ruiru Sub County and with the District Education Officer over the last three years, impressive progress has been made. Now, evidence shows that parents are motivated to send children to school. Yet, a lot work needs to be done. In the future, institutional help will be decisive: ‘The County Government provides porridge flour to some Early Child Development (ECD) schools in the area. While they can certainly do more, we hope that a sustainable model will be developed to support more children by replication,Wawira said.

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About Njeri Kihang’ah-Chege

Njeri Kihang’ah-Chege

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