In Kenya’s low-income settlements, a hot lunch uplifts education
In Nairobi's informal settlements, Australia is helping the World Food Programme to provide a hot lunch to around 77,000 pupils in 91 schools. School meals provide a critical safety net, especially for girls, encouraging more regular attendance at school and improving the enrolment and transition to higher education. School meals are a key investment in millions of people's futures and they also boost the local economies. WFP's Martin Karimi explains.
A church-run primary school is in the heart of a Nairobi slum sits amidst a sea of dwellings made of corrugated metal sheets.
The school stands out, because even though the structure is also made of wood and metal sheets, it is one of the few multi-story buildings in the area.
This is the only way of accommodating the more than 300 pupils enrolled here – building towards the sky. More than half of the school's population is made up of girls.
"Most of us come from very needy homes. The lunch we get in school is balanced and gives us strength to study," said Valerie Akinyi, a class seven pupil at Nazarene primary school. "If there's any leftover food, our cooks give it to the most needy pupils to take home."
Valerie wants to become an author when she grows up.
"I want to be an author because we don't have enough text books. I would like to contribute to the education of children in the low income areas by writing books," said Valerie.
"The school meals are balanced. The food gives us strength and our bodies can fight disease."
Risper Akinyi is also in class seven. She wants to become a lawyer, in order to fight for the rights of the weak.
"WFP wants to ensure that each pupil in this school stays in good health," said Risper.
"We work in the informal sector, and it is not always easy to find work. Any programme that can help us save money is definitely most welcome," said Evelyne Kamwaro, a parent at Nazarene primary school.
Evelyn hails the School Meals Programme because it takes care of one of the many worries that most parents living in the low-income settlements face.
"Most of us go out in search of work and do not return until dusk. With the school lunch, the children don't return to stay in the house alone. They stay in school and this keeps them safe," she says.
"Prior to the School Meals Programme, our school had a very low population. Children performed poorly, because they came to school on empty stomachs," said Charles Mingo, the Deputy Head Teacher, Nazarene primary school.
From in-kind to cash
Nazarene primary school is one of the 91 schools that are supported by WFP in the Nairobi County. Starting in September 2015, WFP switched its method of providing assistance to cash instead of direct shipments of food.
"Schools in Nairobi are now purchasing their own food. This allows the schools to diversify the types of foods given to the pupils, and using cash from WFP, the schools are contributing to building the local economy," said Charles Njeru, a School Meals Programme Officer with WFP.
WFP has been supporting school meals in Kenya since 1980. As the government further develops its ability to support school meals throughout the country, WFP is gradually handing over the programmes to the national home-grown school meals programme.
Since 2010, DFAT has provided over $11.5 million to the School Meals Programme.