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School children feast on wild fruits to ward off hunger as drought bites

RIFT VALLEY
By Phares Mutembei | September 14th 2021

Festus Kipruto slashing maize at Nyawa village, Elgeyo Marakwet County. July 7, 2021. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

School children in sections of hunger-ravaged Tigania East Sub County in Meru are eating wild fruits to survive a day-long ordeal.

Following the unreliable rains in the last three years, families have been going hungry, with school-going children being among the hardest hit.

While some children in the Lailuba area are able to at least have a cup of porridge made from maize flour and millet, others have to miss it because their parents have not presented their schools with six kilogrammes of maize and a kilo of millet.

Apart from giving the items to the school administration, the parents are also required to pay Sh500 a term towards the cook's salary.

Agnes Kaburo, the chairperson of Twereru People Living with Disability at Lailuba said children with various forms of disability are severely affected.

"We have had no sufficient rain for three years and parents are unable to feed their children. Many children are not going to school and even those who do, it is in the hope they will get at least a cup of porridge there," Kaburo said.

Julius Mwitari from Lailuba said residents in the dry region depend on livestock but the lack of rain had compromised the economic activity, and parents’ ability to contribute to the school feeding programme.

“We rear goats, sheep and cattle for sale but following years of unreliable rainfall, it has made growing crops impossible and also affected livestock rearing. Many parents cannot afford to buy maize and millet to give to schools. Our children are not given the porridge to lessen the hunger pangs,” said Mwitari.

Agnes Kaburo, the chairperson of Twereru People Living with Disability at Lailuba. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

At lunch time, some of the children do not go home because there is nothing to eat there.

We witnessed a group of boys perched on a tree feasting on nthiari and ngatu, wild fruits usually eaten by squirrels and monkeys.

“Many children in Lailuba do not go home at lunchtime. They either go into neighbouring bushes to look for the wild fruits or just sit under a tree, then return to school for the afternoon lessons. It is a difficult situation we are in and we appeal to the county and national governments for relief food,” said Kubai Mamira, a community volunteer.

A headteacher of a primary school at Muthara Ward who did not wish to be named, said concentration levels in class are low, and teachers are worried of the long-term performance.

“There is a pupil who fainted the other day and it could be because of the long periods she had gone without enough food,” he said.

Samuel Gitonga, the chairman of the Kibiru Primary School and Meru Assembly Majority Leader Victor Kariithi said attendance rates had dropped alarmingly in hunger-hit Athwana Ward in Tigania West Sub County.

Speaking during a food donation exercise, Kariithi (Athwana Ward) said the region was reeling under a serious food deficiency.

“We have nine schools (in Athwana Ward) where children have started to miss school because they have nothing to eat,” he said.

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