August 22, 2018
By Elizabeth A. Kaine
Director of the National School Feeding Programme, Silvester Mehuex, has in an exclusive interview with Concord Times disclosed that the school feeding programme will kick-off on 17th September.
He insisted that it will not be “business usual” and that government has already billed over 69 billion Leones for quality feeding in destitute areas across the country.
He said the government’s target is to provide quality school feeding at international standards across the country, with the aim of returning dropout pupils back to school and make them feel at home.
The funding for the school feeding programme is coming directly from government, with partners, including the Catholic Relief Service (CRS), that is targeting 32,000 children for feeding, the World Food Programme targeting 35,000 children for feeding, and Joint Aid Management (JAM) targeting 15,000 children in the provinces affected by poverty.
One of the challenges that the government was faced with in the previous years was the payment of the money into the various school accounts. Mr. Meheux added that most of the school accounts were dormant, meaning inactive.
Madam Alice Coker, Head Teacher of Buxton Girl’s Primary School, welcomed President Bio’s school feeding programme, but wished that it was implemented at the national level, and include all pupils from all areas. She explained that good nutrition will improve cognition and learning abilities during classes while at the same time the families will get to keep more money for other needs.
Significant numbers of pupils stopped attending school when the feeding programme was put to a halt while others went to school only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, because they knew they will receive a meal. Madam Coker urged the government to resume the programme and provide meals for pupils Monday through Friday.
One of the benefits of feeding pupils in school is that it creates an enabling environment for pupils to be attentive and focus throughout the day because they pay more attention in school.
According to the World Bank, school feeding is seen as a safety net for children, especially in poor and food insecure areas. Evidence shows that these programmes have the ability to improve the health, nutrition and education of children, and offset lost income for struggling families. In many cases, they can also support local and national economies and food security. The World Food Programme (WFP) stated that Sierra Leone ranks close to the bottom of the Human Development Index, and more than half of its population lives on less than US$1.90 a day. Nearly half the population is food insecure and 52.9 live below the national poverty line.
Joseph Kamara, Deputy Head Teacher of Dr. S.M. Broderick Municipal Primary School, said that the feeding programme motivates children to go to school every day on time and participate attentively. “Government should continue the school feeding programme, simply because it increases pupils’ attendance in school and also help keep them alert in class,” he said.
Most pupils eligible for school feeding come from deprived homes and they often do not get a single nutritious meal a day. Mr. Kamara noted that, for a country like Sierra Leone, school feeding should be one of the major government priorities to encourage the needy children to attend school.
According to the 2015 census, there were approximately 1.2 million pupils enrolled in primary school. But this number may have increased, as according to Mr. Meheux, around 1.6 million children are currently enrolled in primary schools and that out of this number only 84,000 will benefit from the school feeding programme.
According to a Statistics Sierra Leone report in 2016, about 77.4 % of children were considered to live in poverty. The current child poverty rate of 77.4% is however, based on MICS (multiple indicator cluster survey) 2010 and so does not reflect the situation of children during or after the Ebola Virus Disease. A child is considered poor if he or she is deprived of at least one of the following rights which constitute poverty: housing, education, information, water, sanitation, health and nutrition. The incidence of child poverty is far greater in rural areas than in urban areas. In rural areas, 85 per cent of children are found to be poor.
More specific interventions to reduce child poverty include school feeding, health insurance, scholarships for children to attend and stay in school and subsidies and vouchers (for housing or food), Statistics SL stated in their 2016 report.
A survey conducted by Concord Times newspaper in various government and government-assisted primary schools across Freetown in 2017 revealed that attendance in schools dropped dramatically as a result of sudden halt of the school feeding programme.
The 2018 supplementary budget proposed by the Ministry of Finance and approved by the Parliament allocates an amount of Le69.6 billion to support school feeding in remote communities.
In 2015, former President Ernest Bai Koroma launched the school feeding programme which benefited about 2000 schools across the country.
As of 2016, an estimated 368 million children – about one in five – received at least one meal at school daily, according to the World Bank data. In Sierra Leone, fewer than 1 in 10 pupils will receive a meal in school daily, based on the current school feeding programme.