VIOLET MENGO, Chipata
THE adage that ‘education is the key to success’ is true in that education opens doors for people of all backgrounds and it expands human knowledge too.
The vast amount of knowledge gained through education prepares individuals to solve problems, teach others, function at a higher level and implement transformational ideas.
Without education, one’s chances of securing a good job and ascending to a higher economic and social status are often limited.
For this reason, Vizenge Primary School in Chipata district, desires to see childrem excel in life and contribute to the growth of the nation.
It has a school feeding programme that encourages pupils to attend school and get good grades too.
The school has 457 pupils from grades one to nine, eight classrooms and 15 teachers.
Vizenge Primary School head teacher Stella Sakala explains that the feeding programme which started in 2015, aims at enhancing class attendance and producing good results.
Before that, the level of absenteeism by pupils who could not afford to eat before going to school, was high.
“A simple meal means everything for the children. The samp we give pupils simply spells hope and survival, and a reason to attend classes,” Ms Sakala says.
In this part of the country, are many vulnerable children that go to school on empty stomachs. Obviously, a hungry pupil cannot concentrate fully in class.
“We have seen an increase [in class attendance] especially among the lower grades since the school feeding programme started,” Ms Sakala adds.
The school feeding programme started when Japan Tobacco International (JTI) donated a variety of seeds to the school so that it could produce its own food in a typical Japanese school style.
Before that, in 2012 JTI took notice of Vizenge and donated a mobile laboratory to the school, rehabilitated the run-down infrastructure and repaired desks, lockers and bookshelves to create a conducive learning environment.
The good learning environment was not enough to improve class attendance and apparently lack of food for some of the learners was the reason for their absenteeism.
Three years later, JTI who were keenly following the turn of events at Vizinge, was prompted to donate seeds to help the school produce crops to feed needy pupils.
Today the school produces different types of crops for sale to earn income for the feeding programme.
Proceeds from the sale of crops are used to buy food for the pupils who are served with samp at break-time every day.
School feeding programmes for needy learners have become a worldwide phenomena.
The World Bank says school feeding programmes provide educational and health benefits to the most vulnerable children, thereby increasing enrollment rates, reducing absenteeism, and improving food security at the household level.
Ms Sakala explains that most children do not have breakfast at home before going to school every morning.
“They come to school with empty stomachs. It is unthinkable how they have adjusted to hunger, but this is the problem that many children face in rural Zambia face,” she says.
Vizenge Primary School’s garden has proved to be a worthy venture. Deputy head teacher Doreen Mwale says last year, the school raised K1500 from the sale of vegetables and the money was used to buy maize for the children.
This year, the school has planted tomatoes, okra, pumpkins, onions and maize, and by the end of March they had sold crops worth K1200.
Ms Mwale said the school has engaged two gardeners for the project. Pupils also do some work on the one hectare garden during physical education.
Before Vizenge Primary School started this programme, the Zambian government had already piloted a school feeding programme.
On the back of several research findings that lack of food was widely responsible for poor school enrolment and attendance, Government piloted a school feeding programme in 2014.
The programme is financed and implemented by Government, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, European Union and World Food Programme (WFP).
Under the government sponsored school feeding programme, pupils are not engaged in cultivating the land like the case is at Vizenge Primary School.
Ministry of General Education spokesperson Hilary Chipango said the school feeding programme has improved school attendance for a larger percentage of pupils who were absconding due to hunger.
However, the feeding programme at Vizenge is regarded as a model for food production at school level.
Eastern Province permanent secretary Chanda Kasolo impressed by the feeding programme said, “This is the model that we need to adopt as Government.”
Mr Kasolo, together with Japanese Ambassador to Zambia Hidenobu Sobashima, and government officials visited the school recently to familiarise themselves with the feeding programme and other activities supported by JTI.
Mr Kasolo said most government schools have enough land which can be used to cultivate crops and feed the pupils.
He urged other schools to emulate Vizenge in their quest to improve class attendance.
“The model used here at Vizenge is widely used in Japan and it can be used locally. It provides a learning platform for pupils who also take part in cultivating the land,” he said.
Mr Sobashima said was encouraged to note that Government has found the Vizenge Primary School feeding programme worth replicating in other schools.
The school’s feeding programme is in line with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aimed at promoting universal basic education and gender equality in educational access.
Goal number four focuses at ensuring that all girls and boys complete free primary and secondary schooling by 2030.
To achieve this goal, it is essential that even the poorest children, who mostly suffer from ill-health and hunger, are able to attend school and learn.