LINDA NYONDO, Chilanga
THREE hundred happy boys and girls of Chilanga Open Community School dash out of class at lunch break, making a beeline for the dining hall to receive their meals.
The children from early childhood to grade seven classes sit at their tables eagerly waiting for food, a gesture made possible by the newly introduced feeding programme at their school.
They see this opportunity as God-given because most of them come from poor and vulnerable households where parents and guardians cannot afford to provide three meals a day, let alone breakfast.
Thanks to Adri Geeve, a nutritionist from Denmark who visited the school 10 years ago and introduced the feeding programme.
Mr Geeve is a research scientist working for the World Food Programme to develop nutritional formulas.
His connection with Zambia came as a result of an official visit to the country in 2008 and a subsequent meeting he had in Denmark with the executive director of Reformed Open Community Schools (ROCs), Marlon Phiri.
ROCS is a project under the Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ), with the Chilanga Open Community School being among the beneficiaries.
When Mr Geeve came to Zambia in 2008, he visited Chilanga Open Community School and was moved with compassion after he observed the health status of the pupils.
This prompted him, his wife Maria and other well-wishers 10 years ago, to start supporting the school with food for the pupils.
They are not only supporting the school nutritionally but financially as well, resulting in the institution investing the resources in infrastructure and facilities to enhance the quality of education, much to the delight of Mr Phiri.
The school administration has since constructed a kitchen and a dining hall, and has also invested in poultry farming to support the feeding programme.
“I am happy that the meeting I had with Adri Geeve has positively impacted the lives of vulnerable children who have an opportunity to get educated despite coming from families that cannot afford to send them to school,’’ Mr Phiri says with glee.
Additionally, Ruth Katongo, a trustee at the school, is delighted at the benefits that the support from Mr Geeve and his team have brought to the school and beneficiary children in Chilanga.
Ms Katongo noted that the school feeding programme is providing inspiration to pupils and the level of absenteeism by children from underprivileged families has gone down.
“Each child is given an egg once a week, and we sell the surplus. The money we realise from the sale of eggs is given to the school administration to help with the management of the school,’’ Ms Katongo says.
Moreover, the nutritional status of all the children at the school has improved because of the meals they are given between Monday and Friday.
Ms Katongo said the learners are now paying attention in class, which has resulted in improved class performance because of good nutrition.
The good classroom attendance calls for the creation of more classroom space. Therefore, the school is in the process of acquiring land for the construction of new classrooms.
Ms Katongo said this will enable the school to raise the pupil population from the current 300.
Teacher-in-charge Salatiyo Nyirenda adds that the donor has supplied the school with teaching materials and computers which will enable them to provide computer lessons.
“Previously, we were facing challenges to prepare lessons for pupils and printing test papers for them. We had to look for an internet café to have the test papers printed, which was an expensive exercise,’’ Ms Nyirenda said.
Two pupils at the school, Natasha Mwenda and Innocent Chibaku, are grateful to the school management for the support in form of books, clothes and other necessities which have created a conducive environment for learning.
“We do not bother our parents by asking them to buy books for us because the school provides for us through the financial support they receive from Adri Geeve and his workmates,’’ Innocent said.
And ROCS reverend-in-charge Sam Phiri explains the background of the school.
Rev Phiri said RCZ decided to start a community school project and provide education for the children, most of whom are either single or double orphans as well of empowering the underprivileged.
He said apart from getting education services, the children are also given food because most of their parents and guardians cannot afford to do so.
“Despite having a donor who is supporting the school financially, the church has not stopped supporting it.
And being the initiator of the community school, RCZ has provided land where the current community school has been constructed,” he says.
Rev Phiri said RCZ wishes to reach out to as many people as possible with the word of God and also invest in them academically so that they could have a better future.
LINDA NYONDO, Chilanga