|Pupils from various schools converge for a meal at the Live and Learn centre in Nakuru. [PHOTOS: BONIFACE THUKU/STANDARD]|
By STEVE MKAWALE and AUGUSTINE ODUOR
Five year ago, Kavin Gitau would watch other children from his neighborhood run to school while he stayed behind to care for his siblings.
But a feeding programme founded by a local organisation has helped the boy, 12, take her place among pupils in the sprawling Kaptembwo slums in Nakuru County.
He was among thousands of children who reported to school for second term, and among hundreds who jammed a feeding center in Nakuru’s Sahabab estate for lunch. Here, poor children enroll and stay in school enticed by the daily meals they get.
“When I wake up in the morning, I get ready to go to school very quickly because I know that good food is waiting for me,” says Gitau.
“I am happy that I can spend the whole day at school learning and I don’t have to walk the long way home hungry. I like eating rice every day,” adds the boy, who hails from Kwa Rhoda area. More than 400 pupils from slums areas west of Nakuru town benefit from the programme under the ‘Feed A Smile,’ an initiative of a group of musicians based in Scotland, Germany and the US.
Live and Learn Kenya implements the project at a center in Shabab estate where children converge every day for meals. Project manager Kenneth Branda says they also fund feeding programmes in schools far away from the center.
“Most of the children who come here are from schools that are in the surrounding but we fund similar programmes in institutions far away from the center to avoid children walking long distances for the meals. The daily meals are given to motivate parents to enroll their children and encourage the pupils and students to remain there,” Branda tells Standard On Saturday.
The feeding programme started in 2008 is one of the targeted social safety nets that provide educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children, thereby increasing enrollment rates, reducing absenteeism, and improving food security at the household level. According to Branda, although Government’s idea of free education initiated by former President Kibaki in 2003 has seen the number of pupils and student in schools swell, keeping them there remains a challenge.
“We have 482 children, with 27 in nursery and 421 in primary, 25 in secondary and nine in vocational training engaged in courses such as tailoring, hairdressing and mechanics,” he says.
His organisation, which is based in Nakuru town has partnered with local public schools — Ngongoch, Muslim, Ronda and Barut.
“We thought the only way for the needy children to access education was to provide food so that they are motivated to go school instead of staying at home where there may be nothing to feed on,” he says.
Branda came up with the concept because majority of the vulnerable and orphaned children though compelled to go school will not concentrate. “We found out that the only way to promote education and sustain it was to provide food to the needy in the society,” he says.
The project started with 23 boys and 34 girls. But Branda says the idea was focused on the girl child because of early pregnancies and marriages.
He was forced to rethink the program when boys, as young as 12 year-old were engaging in crime.
“Another objective was to empower the children with information. We taught topics such as peer pressure, drug abuse, family health, effects of adolescence sexual abuse and early marriage,” he adds.
Other than education, he says, other core objectives are to undertake HIV and Aids awareness, hygiene seminars and counselling and to promote religious and tribal tolerance. Residents hail the program. They say it has succeeded in promoting education and enabled many children who would have not gone to school to do so.
Gladys Kasiti, a parent, said: “The Government and other well-wishers should support such programmes since it has reached the grassroots and is a major boost to education in the slum areas” she says.
Another parent Ms Grace Ong’ele says the programme has achieved what the Government could not.
“The musicians, who are the main sponsors of the project, perform in Europe and America and all the money they collect from the audience is brought to Kenya for the feeding programme, says Branda.
Area chief Moses Koech says the programme has assisted in getting more children to go to school.