By Hassan Gbassay Koroma from Kabala
Minister of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, Dr. David Moinina Sengeh, last Thursday, January 26, launched the fifth phase of the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program for Koinadugu and Falaba Districts respectively.
The McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and implemented in Sierra Leone by Catholic Relief Services CRS, and the program will run from 2021 to 2025.
The fifth phase of the program will prioritize sustainability and transitioning to the government, reduce hunger, improve school enrolment, build and rehabilitate schools, establish school gardens to promote nutritious diets.
The program will continue to cover 15 chiefdoms in two of the most remote districts in the country and will assist over 51,000 pupils in 310 schools, reaching a total of 88,696 direct participates.
The program aims to improve literacy of school age children by improving the skills of teachers and school administrators, teacher attendance and access to school supplies and literacy instruction materials, improve attendance and attentiveness through better access to food and nutrition, and improve knowledge of health and hygiene practices by training food preparers, increase access to clean water and many more.
Speaking at the event which took place at the Lengekoro Primary School in Koinadugu District, Minister Sengeh started off by thanking the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program for supporting the country’s Free Education initiative and providing free daily meal for pupils in Koinadugu and Falaba District.
He said over the years they have realised that excessive punishment in schools scare children from going to school, adding that they have engaged teachers to stop the beating and also introduced the free feed with the aim to keep more children in school.
He said the introduction of the Free Education and school feeding has attracted more children in schools across the country, stating that the Government of Sierra Leone funds 90% of the school feeding programme.
He disclosed that that was s the fifth time Sierra Leone was benefiting from the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program and that Sierra Leone is the only country to have benefited fifth times from their gesture.
Country Representative of Catholic Relief Services Sierra Leone, Jeanne Ella Andrianambinina, said since 2008, CRS has been implementing the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program in Koinadugu and Falaba districts, together with the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education and Caritas Makeni, to improve literacy and reduce hunger in schools.
She said during the fourth phase, together with their partners and communities, they provided daily school meals to over 64,000 school children from the two districts, and that they have constructed, and rehabilitated over 310 school facilities including school blocks, latrines, boreholes, and storerooms and provided teaching and learning materials to schools in all 310 MGD program, supported schools in Koinadugu and Falaba districts.
She said as part of a comprehensive intervention that seeks to increase knowledge and sustainability, the program trained teachers, school administrators and established community structures to improve quality education in the districts.
“As a result of these efforts, the MGD program supported schools were amongst the schools that top the National Primary School Examination (NPSE) in Sierra Leone in 2022. Through it all, we have seen a drastic increase in school attendance and improved academic performance. Together, we have improved literary rates, surpassing our target by 60% and increased attendance rate from 69% to 74%. These achievements are outstanding, and everyone seated here today should be proud of what we’ve built together,” she said.
She said the fifth phase of the program focuses on promoting quality education, community ownership and sustainability and it main objective is to increase the rate of children reaching the threshold while also consolidating the gains that have already been made.
Agricultural Attache at the United States Department of Agriculture, Robert Tuebner, said the McGovern-Dole Food for Education and Child Nutrition program has been active in Sierra Leone since 2008 and since then, the United States of America has invested over 80 million United States Dollars to achieve its objectives including reducing hunger, improving literacy and nutrition for pre-primary and primary school children.
He said currently, the program is providing free meal to over 98,412 to direct beneficiaries in 310 primary schools in Koinadugu and Falaba Districts and in eight special needs schools for the blind and deaf.
He said the project has also improved school infrastructure, trained teachers and community members and provided pre-literacy materials and other interventions to create the ultimate environment for learning.
He said in the midst of the ongoing food security challenges that every country faces, integrated schools nutrition programs remain key components of a broader food and nutrition security strategy.