Published in: State of the Planet | Earth Institute | Columbia University
Fourteen year old Eugene Obare and his friends from Nyamuninia Primary School in Sauri Millennium Village were invited to address a packed amphitheatre of delegates at the International Food Fair, organized by the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi on October 7th. They are a new breed of happy, confident kids in rural Kenya who love going to school, where they are achieving good grades and dream of becoming engineers and pilots like others their age.
What makes these students particularly special, as the delegates discovered, is that they run one of the country’s most successful school feeding program in an area traditionally steeped in poverty, where going hungry used to be a daily reality for most children. The program is unique in that it is self-sustaining, run by parents, teachers and students themselves who took over after initial donor funding ran out. Together, they produce enough food to provide free, nutritious meals to the school’s 875 students, and income from the sale of surplus produce like eggs and milk goes to buy supplies, books and uniforms for the most needy kids. As such, the program can serve as a model to other rural schools, not only in Kenya but in the rest of Africa.
Outside of school hours, Eugene is in charge of growing vegetables in the school garden, and is also the Chairman of the K4 club, the group of students who volunteer for the program in their free time.
“We run a supplementary feeding program, so that students get enough vitamins and have a balanced diet,” explains Eugene. “We grow vegetables like kale in the school garden, and from the income generated by sales of different produce, we have hired workers and small farms to grow maize and beans as well.”
A typical meal at Nyamuninia consist solely of produce generated by the school, and in addition to fresh vegetables, also includes fruit like avocados and paw paw, and milk.
“We have five cows now, and with the milk they produce we supplement children’s porridge in the morning, particularly nursery students,” explains 15 year old Omondi Raphael Nyatodi, who looks after dairy production. “We sell the surplus milk, and with the money we have been able to buy more cows.”
The program is having a tremendous impact on school results, and its hard to believe that only five years ago, most children in Sauri were too hungry to concentrate in class.
“Before, we would miss school when we went home to look for food. Sometimes we would find no food. We couldn’t concentrate on an empty stomach and our performance was low,” remembers fourteen year old Nancy Awuor Awouch.
Now, the children point proudly to a progress chart which they have drawn, tracking their improving grades from a mean score of 208 to a new high of 325. Attendance at Nyamininia Primary has gone from 710 pupils in 2005 to 875 in 2011.
The educational aspect of children’s involvement in the school feeding program is a big plus, imparting farming and agribusiness skills, nutrition information, as well as great confidence in the students.
“From my teachers and Millennium Village staff I have learnt everything about keeping chickens,” says Nancy, who looks after the poultry, “I can do everything, including feeding, collecting eggs, and giving vaccines.”
It is this success which motivates parents to provide a bulk of the food from surplus agricultural produce.
“Initially, parents resisted taking part in the school feeding because they thought it would be a big expense. But when they saw the grades of their children improving, they wanted to be a part. Now, other schools around Sauri are starting up their own programs,” explains Lillian Abonyo, the teacher in charge of the school feeding program at Nyamuninia Primary.
“And that is the beauty of the program, it is simple and inexpensive to set up, it gives children better nutrition and skills, and can be copied by other schools in Kenya, no matter how poor,” she adds. The second phase of the Millennium Villages Project, launched this month, focuses on transferring ownership of gains made in all sectors to the community, and providing simple models which other villages can follow to lift themselves out of poverty. Nyamininia’s school feeding program is a leading example of this process.