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Kenya school feeding program boosts appetite
for learning among hundreds of slum children

By Ejidiah Wangui NAIROBI (Xinhua) -- It was a few minutes to 08.00 a.m. and a thick cloud of dust flew past five-year-old Daniel Otieno, as he struggled to catch up with his siblings on their way to school.

When Otieno wiped the dust off his eyes to regain some visibility on the busy path, his siblings had disappeared into the crowd of thousands of people rushing along with the traffic.

He arrived in school at 8:30 a.m.

At least he was not late for a cup of porridge, a main motivation for going to school, which is 5 km away from home.

Otieno began to attend the school when he was only two years old.

His teacher Victor Omollo said one day he followed his siblings to school and nothing could turn him back ever since.

He wants to be a neurosurgeon when he grows up.

"He is one of the pupils who has never missed class unless he is sick which is rare.

"He loves school but one of the reasons behind this love is the cup of porridge they get in the morning and at 3.00 p.m. before going home," said Omollo.

Sometimes, the two cups of porridge are all Otieno has for the day as a meal is not assured at home.

His parents are casual workers in Nairobi’s Industrial area and their jobs are not guaranteed.

There are days they will come back home empty-handed.

His school in Kibera slum, an informal settlement southwest of Kenya’s capital Nairobi is among a few that have benefited from a feeding program - Cup of Uji (porridge), initiated by Francis Amonde in 2011.

Speaking to Xinhua on Wednesday, 27-year-old Amonde said the feeding program takes up to 3 million Kenya shillings (30,000 U.S. dollars) per year which caters to nearly 2,000 underprivileged children.

"I started the program in 2011 when I was 21, I one day walked into a primary school in Western Kenya where my late mother was a teacher.

"I was moved when I saw children sleeping under trees looking frail and lost.

"Most of these children were being raised by their grandparents who did not have any source of income.

"Food was a luxury in most homes, from then on I decided to do something," said Amonde.

According to 2018 Global Health Report, millions of children under five years suffer from acute malnutrition due to poor feeding habits arising from lack of enough nutritious food.

Africa is one of the two continents that bear the greatest share of all forms of malnutrition. Omollo recalled one day a child passed away in class due to hunger.

"Some of the children walk long distances to school on empty stomachs.

"Before the program, school attendance was really low but the situation changed when they started getting a cup of porridge.

"Sometimes, it’s all they look forward to when they wake up in the morning.

"I feel joy when I see them happy because their stomachs are full, and they gain knowledge," said Omollo.

For Amonde, the fact that a child leaves home every morning to drink a cup of porridge in school, is enough reason to keep him going.

Raising money to fund the project has not been a walk in the park.

He was once at wits end after exhausting all the cash he had on the project and the only person he thought of was President Uhuru Kenyatta.

He logged into his twitter account and messaged Kenyatta requesting him to chip into his little project.

"The president’s social media managers got back to me immediately and by 05.00 a.m. the following morning, we had raised enough money that pushed us forward for a while.

"I was able to bring in more schools that had sent me proposals and from then on I have never turned back.

"I have a few more partners and hope more will come on board as I want to extend the program to as many schools as possible across the country," said Amonde.

The government in October 2018 took over from the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) the responsibility for providing lunch to 1.6 million school children in arid and semi-arid areas of the country.

Since the 1980s, school meals in Kenya have been the joint responsibility of WFP and the ministry of education.

Kenya launched a home-grown school meals program in 2009 as a nationally-owned and government-led program and started giving hot meals to more than half a million children who were initially fed through WFP.

Home-grown school meals are cash-based, meaning that schools receive a cash allocation each term from the Treasury to buy food for school children from local markets.

This model boosts not only school attendance but also local economies and agricultural production.

The government has set aside 24 million dollars to cater for school meals in the 2018/19 financial year.



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