By Emmanuel Onwubiko
Monday November 16th 2015 will remain evergreen in the young minds of millions of public primary school pupils in the old Eastern regional capital of Enugu following the unfolding by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of a blueprint to introduce the immediate implementation of school feeding programme.
News report has it that the Enugu Universal Basic Education Board said on Monday in Enugu that it would start a School Feeding Programme in public primary schools in the state in 2016.
The Chairperson of the board, Nneka Onuorah, told the News Agency of Nigeria that the programme would begin with a pilot scheme with selected public schools.
Onuorah said that mothers of the pupils and their communities would be involved in the programme.
She said: “Unlike in the past where the government used vendors to provide meals to children, this school feeding programme is more unique in that the community is fully involved.
“It involves the mothers; the mothers will divide themselves into teams of two or three.
“So each week, at least say team A group of mothers will cook for the children and feed the children and they will rotate.
“So the following week, team B group of mothers will now cook for the children.
“Now we find this model to be the most sustainable and we hope that we can branch it out to other schools in other communities and local governments.
“Now, if we do start, we won’t start with every school because of cost.
“We will start small, maybe we will choose one to two schools per local government; and it is always better to start small with this kind of programme.”
Onuorah, who said that the state government would include the programme in the 2016 budget, appealed to the Federal Government to support it.
She said that the board had sponsored a project aimed at de-worming pupils in primary school between June and November 2015. According to her, nearly 300,000 children benefited.
She said that the children also underwent ear, eye, and nose screening during the exercise, adding that the programme was to promote healthy growth among the children and lay a better foundation for learning.
Onuorah said that the board had organized series of training and re-training for teachers to enable them to manage schools effectively, according to a report from the Nigerian official news agency.
One fact left unmentioned by the reporter is the charisma of the person of the Enugu State governor whose mien and approach to governance has endeared him to credible civil society stakeholders. I know the governor in person and can attest that this school feeding programme won’t go like what obtains in some States such as Imo State my state of origin whereby the governor declared free education with the compliments of free feedings but what is obtainable in Imo State as I write is anything but free because apart from the tuitions which is no longer charged the other components like good teaching facilities such as school structures and well trained and motivated teachers are absent in my state. I have interviewed half a dozen senior teachers from different parts of Enugu State and what I take out from them is that all that they need to kickstarting this ambitious feeding programme are in place. My plea to the governor is that he should appoint credible supervision teams to monitor and account for the funds used in feeding the school children and to make sure that quality foods are given to our children. There must be no half measures.
Speaking about school feeding brings us to the universal fact that it is not a new concept since most countries both in the developed and developing economies have one free feeding programme or the other but essentially it is predominantly practiced in countries where the poor are in larger population.
The World Food Programme which is an agency of the United Nations has clearly captured in its official website the historical documentation of the concept of school feeding. To the World Food Programme we will turn our attention to for a clearer understanding of this revolutionary scheme which the Enugu State governor has commenced for the benefits of millions s of school children in public schools from very poor backgrounds. What is School Feeding? The WFP responded thus to the question: “School programmes include meals for students and high-energy biscuits or snacks at schools where a crisis or emergency has struck. WFP also provides take-home rations to families with children who attend school regularly.”
What are the Benefits? The World Food Programme says thus: “A meal at school acts as a magnet to get children into the classroom. Continuing to provide a daily meal to children helps to keep them in school. The benefits of school feeding extend beyond the classroom. Safety Nets: the UN says that School meals help families to educate their children and protect their food security in times of crisis. School meals support development so children can become healthy and productive adults, breaking the cycle of hunger and poverty in the world’s most vulnerable areas. On the Nutritional value of the programme we are told that In poor countries, school meals are often the only regular and nutritious meal a child receives. They are an investment in the child’s future. Without them, hunger and micronutrient deficiencies can cause irreversible damage to their growing bodies. When school meals are combined with deworming and micronutrient fortification, especially when tailored to specific nutritional needs – such as those for adolescent girls – that investment is multiplied. Further, the UN believes that qualitative free feeding programme promotes qualitative Education. A daily school meal, the WFP affirms, provides a strong incentive to send children to school and keep them there. It allows children to focus on their studies rather than their stomachs and helps to increase school enrollment and attendance, decrease drop-out rates, and improve cognitive abilities. Programmes can be tailored to provide take-home rations to target girls in areas where there is a gender gap. Free school feefibg program has a business investment dimension because it promotes a viabrant Local Agriculture sector. According to the WFP as often as possible, food is bought locally, which benefits local farmers and the whole community while enhancing the sustainability of the programme.
It is safe to conclude that governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who has begun this revolutionary school feeding programme designed to reflect local peculiarities is not only promoting patriotism and qualitative education of our children but he is by and large promoting the local agricultural sector and by logical extension is creating jobs for local industrialists in Enugu State. This project deserves duplication in all parts of Nigeria so the millions of poor families will be assisted to cater for their disadvantaged children. Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria fully identifies with the Governor Ugwuanyi-led administration to promote and protect the Human Rights of Nigerians.
- Onwubiko is Head of Human rights Writers Association of Nigeria