“Providing meals to children in school has been a cornerstone of the World Food Programme’s work. As of today worldwide, approximately 19.8 million children in 63 countries receive WFP supported school meals. We perform this work with government and non-government partners including the European Union, UNICEF, FAO and several other national and international institutions.”
Ms Ginja made this revelation last week at the celebrations of the International School Meals Day organised by World Food Programme in collaboration with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education. The theme for this year’s event, which was held at the GOVI school for the deaf is: “Celebrating Culture through Food.”.
She added: “This is the first time in The Gambia to commemorate International School Meals Day which is such a golden opportunity to pay and express publicly our gratitude to the schools cooks all over The Gambia who passionately and consistently provide hot meals on a daily basis throughout the academic year.”
She said 796 volunteer cooks have undertaken multiple tasks usually as food management committee members that first arrive at the school and ready to measure and prepare the cooking commodities so that children are served hot meals on time.
Ginja noted that the ultimate goal is to ensure that school children eat a variety of food that are culturally appropriate. She said that community gardening is a central component of the homegrown school feeding and the nutrient-rich vegetables grown in the gardens can supplement the basic commodities provided by WFP and MOBSE.
she said WFP has recognised that they are not alone in this because, “the mothers who cook the food, teachers who strive to provide quality education and the community farmers assisted by FAO that provides the vegetables help make the children’s meals more nutritious”. She added that other UN agencies like UNICEF work to ensure schools provide relevant and high quality educational opportunities as well as good hygiene and sanitation that these beautiful children need and deserve.
She further added: “I have noticed that children who go to school on an empty stomach, happiness is absent and concentration vanishes. In the past 40 years school cooks, or the ‘women in the shadows’ as they have been termed have been steadfast in their commitment to prepare schools meals for our children.
“School feeding programme represents a huge market with great potential for smaller farmers and small agriculture businesses, potential for smallholder farmers and small agricultural businesses specifically those run by women relying on locally sourced commodities also improves the sustainability of school feeding programme.”
For his part, Modou Phall, the executive director of National Nutrition Agency, said: “The children of today are tomorrow’s generation this is why the government continues to invest in the development of the human capital. The government will continue to commit resources in key priority sectors including health and education as these are instrumental in achieving our desired development goals.
“The theme is in line with vision 2016, ‘eat what you grow and grow what you eat.’ So I urge the promotion of local and indigenous foods which imply that there is need to give special focus to the role youth and women can play in these crusades.”
He urged stakeholders to support the provision of opportunities for gainful employment especially in agricultural industry which will provide food in school feeding programme but also to be able to ensure surplus that can be exported.
Phall disclosed that studies have shown the importance of school meals goes beyond children just consuming food at school but it enhances social protection and a safety net for communities. He said it also relieves hunger which contributes to better learning, increases enrolment, reduces absenteeism and enhances progressions from one grade to the next thus enabling children to achieve their full potential.
Amycoleh Mbaye, director of Basic and Secondary Education said the purpose of International School Meals Day is to raise awareness on the importance of food and nutrition in education and to share school feeding experiences from across the world.
“The day emanated from challenges and successes experienced in promoting health eating in schools across the globe in March as to promote healthy living through the education environment,” she added.
The permanent secretary at the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, Babucarr Buoy commented: “To be successful in this crusade, we need to transmit those livelihood skills and deposition needed to the future leadership through the promotion of eating what is grown in The Gambia and growing what we eat especially the school meals given to the children.”]]>