School feeding programme makes Marsabit kids flow to class

Marsabit Woman Rep Naomi Jilo Waqo with S.M.K primary schools pupils during their lunch break. [File, Standard]

“Uji! uji! uj! (porridge! porridge! porridge!)"—these are the chants of three excited Early Childhood Development (ECD) pupils at Gar Qarsa Primary and Junior Secondary School, in Marsabit county, as they run to the school kitchen, carrying their cups.

They then queue to partake their porridge at 11am. For some of them, this is the first meal of the day, while for others, this is the first meal in 24 hours after the lunch they had at school the previous day. These children come from poor families.

Some, on an empty stomach, walk more than five kilometres to go to school, hoping that they will get porridge at 11am before being served rice and beans at lunch time. The food rations has made education and the five-kilometre trek worth their while.

After being served their meals, some eat half of it and save the rest for their families back home. In their little minds, there is the guilt of eating while knowing the younger siblings and parents at home have nothing to eat.

As they queue, waiting for their turn to be served, we spot two ECD girls, looking agitated while balancing tears. Up on inquiring what could be the source of their worry, an older student who speaks fluent Kiswahili says wanaogopa uji itawaishia, (they fear that by the time they reach the server there will be no more porridge for them).

They, however, get the porridge. There is enough porridge for all of them. It is just that the fear stems from the fact that their lives are clouded with scarcity. After their porridge, we spot them skipping with beaming faces, indicating for now their stomachs are full.

Daniel Arero, the head teacher, says the School Meal Programme has hugely contributed to 99 per cent of attendance. Without the meals, the attendance drops by 20 per cent.

“When there is no food, some learners come and faint here. They depend on these meals. But now there is relief and we hope the programme never stops so that they are motivated to come to school,” he says

“Some of the kids carry porridge and food home, after being served, they hide the meals and take home to their families,” Arero says.

As a result of the feeding programme, enrollment has gone up from 300 pupils to 692 pupils. There are 150 ECD pupils and 542 primary and junior secondary students.

After Gar Qarsa, we visited four other schools; Al Hidaya Muslim Primary, Kwa Ndege Primary, SKM Primary and Hula Hula Primary schools. In all those schools, the attendance increases tremendously when the pupils are sure they will get meals.

Students at Hula Hula expressed their gratitude to the programme.

“We appreciate the meal programme because our parents cannot afford more than one meal a day. When schools close, we really suffer because our parents can only afford supper,” says Talaso Gambare, a Grade 7 learner at Hula Hula.

Her sentiments are echoed by her school mate Kame Dayo of Grade 6 who stressed on the importance of having sanitary towels.

“We thank our Woman Rep for bringing us sanitary towels. We also thank the government for the feeding programme. Our parents have peace of mind when they know that we can get food at school. When there is no food at school, it becomes very difficult to focus on learning,” she says

Abdi Alkano, a parent at Kiwanja Ndege Primary, says he was heart-broken when he heard that the programme might be discontinued.

“I am a casual worker. My four children depend on the food at school. If it ever stops, I will be extremely stressed. Right now I can focus on my casual jobs during the day knowing my children will eat at school,” says Alkano, a casual labourer at Kiwanja Ndege Primary.

Amina Malicha, a mother of two, says the weather condition has contributed to their misery.

“As a parent, I can go do casual jobs knowing very well my child has eaten at school. My husband is also a casual labourer. Sometimes we sleep hungry but knowing my child ate during the day gives me peace,” Malicha says

Marsabit County Woman Representative Naomi Jilo Waqo thanked National Council for Nomadic Education in Kenya (NACONEK) for the meal programme.