We all know that food in the household is not enough for vulnerable families during times of crisis. While food aid is mainly provided where there is food insecurity, one of the most effective and efficient ways of doing so is to provide food based on specific objectives such as increasing school enrollment and reducing drop-out. Nyatora Dei is a case in point of what a school feeding programme (SFP) can do to save lives and provide continuity to children’s schooling during times of crisis.
Nyatora Dei is a 12-year-old Primary 2 pupil at Nyangore Primary School in Nyangore village in Ulang County of Upper Nile State, South Sudan. In this photo, her 10-year-old brother who is in Primary 3 is seen holding Nyatora’s hand. Nyatora is so happy to be back to school for the school year 2019 after dropping out for one year (2018). She was denied the right to attend school to take care of her younger siblings as her parents went out to put bread on the table for the family. In a turn of fortunes, Nyatora’s younger brother, Tuong Dei, came back home one day and insisted their parents allow Nyatora to go back to school again!
The catch was this: “the school now provides food for all children attending classes”. The parents felt persuaded and allowed their daughter to return to school. But there was also a bonus: Nyatora’s youngest sibling of 3 years went along with her to school to attend Early Childhood Development (ECD).
This is the result of an 8-month intervention funded by UN OCHA to provide school feeding and critical school canteen facilities in schools to reduce hunger and malnutrition, disease and cognitive underdevelopment to out-of-school children and youth (aged 6-18), support local markets and encourage female retention and spread life-saving nutrition/hygiene. A quick survey in early 2019 by CMD had revealed reduction by up to 11% of learners in Ulang County from the time SFP was discontinued. A lack of intervention would, therefore have eroded previous gains achieved, and prevented children like Nyatora Dei from accessing the protective factors of school. In late 2018, 26,000 people in Ulang County were one step below famine (IPC Phase 4). REACH September 2018 Ulang Rapid Assessment had found evidence of high food insecurity with 52% assessed confirming spending entire days without food as coping strategy. The main reasons cited for lack of attendance of boys and girls in Ulang settlements with access to education were hunger (29%) and insecurity (29%)- REACH (2018). The most frequently cited consumption-based coping strategy in Ulang was limiting the size of family meals. Emergency high-energy biscuits were distributed to children during the set-up period; followed closely by daily hot lunch cereal meals provided during school days as a coping mechanism to keep children in schools and enrol out-of-school learners on the condition that they attend regularly. Providing food in school meant that children’s nutritional intake could be directly monitored. Nyatora Dei was among the 5, 745 (2, 126 girls) children targeted in this life-saving intervention. Recalling how it all came about, she said, “Tuong convinced our mother by letting her know food is available at school. Many girls are now coming back to school. The young children are served food earlier. I feel so good and now am able to play with my friends and attend my school, too. When I get older, I would like to become a doctor to look after sick people’.
The SSHF-funded school feeding programme (SFP) has increased vulnerable children’s enrollment in 21 schools from 10, 162 (3, 427 girls) to 21, 747 (7, 865 girls) in 8 months. In Ulang County where Nyatora lives, 6 schools saw their enrolment figures increase from 4, 813 (1, 909 girls) to 12, 032 (4, 509 girls) just 3 months after the introduction of SFP. Child hunger at school has been reduced; more children are accessing and progressing within primary education; and child health & well-being has improved in the community at large. When CMD Field Coordinator informed Nyatora and her colleagues that the School Feeding Programme (SFP) was about to end, she was unhappy. The children all asked why CMD could not contact SSHF to continue supporting schoolchildren with SFP. In the words of Nyatora Dei, “why, this will make it hard for me to come to school. Because my mother will not allow me and my younger brothers to come to school and so I will be left with him at home as my mother goes to search for food for us. But now that I know why school is good, I will keep coming anyway!”.