By Richard Nyamanhindi
Children rush metallic and plastic bowls and plates of varied colours and sizes in front of a makeshift kitchen at Momba Satellite Primary School in Karoi District in Mashonaland West Province, Zimbabwe. In different queues, they remind one of the Oliver Twist ‘can I have more porridge’ narrative. They are enthusiastic to collect their plate of plain rice for their break meal.
Next to the farm houses that have been turned into classrooms is the makeshift kitchen. A middle-aged woman, from the School Development Committee (SDC), Miriam Chilonga, has finished cooking rice in a big pot. The kitchen is full of smoke and steam as the boiling-hot rice simmers in the open firewood stove. Her large, calloused hands and weather-beaten countenance could easily identify this 40-year-old as hardworking. Her job is to cook the daily meal for the children and aptly describes her duty as “A call to keep the children in the school.” She beams brightly at the sweet realization that she is a source of hope for these children.
Hundreds of children peep from a distance through the small door as Miriam carries the big black pot out for dishing. She gives it a few minutes for the temperature to cool. Hungry mouths wait, and the eager, innocent eyes of the young ones watch her every move.
The long awaited serving time arrives. Miriam and the other parent volunteers tells all the children to get into for quick serving. “I have served these children for many months and can match the plates/container to every child’s name,” she says.
The plain rice is a donation from the SDC and is served every break time at the school as many of the young Early Childhood Development (ECD) children turn up for school on empty stomachs. “When times are good, the rice is served with a bit of tomato soup, which makes it tasty. However, the plain rice is a blessing during these hard times in rural Zimbabwe and soup is the last care on these young ones minds.”
The children do not usually have breakfast at home. Every morning they come here with empty stomachs. It is unthinkable how they have adjusted to hunger but this is the fate that many children face in rural Zimbabwe.
School teacher, Mark Rambanepasi, says the simple meal means everything for these children. “The rice simply spells hope and survival, and a reason to attend classes for these children during hard times,” he says.
The school feeding programme is part of the parent’s initiative to increasing the attendance rates of ECDs in the area. “We have discussed with parents for donations and the response has been encouraging. We even have teachers using their own money to buy food for the children so that they are incentivized to attend school,” explains, Mr. Simba Kachote, the school SDC chairperson.
“School holiday are a nightmare for these children and that is why some even turn up for school during the school break. We have seen an increase especially among the lower Grades since the school feeding programme started,” adds Miriam.
Most provinces suffered a drought last year and this year the Meteorological Department has predicted the worst El Nino in the region which will inevitably affect school attendance. “School attendance and enrollment shot up in May when the school feeding program started. School feeding has had an enormous impact on our school pupils we must keep this program going,” Miriam says.