No child should go hungry - my visit to Harmony Primary School

Ernst Esau, Principal of Harmony Primary school spending some time with his learners in the school kitchen

 

One of the highlights of my visit to Harmony Primary school was chatting to Foundation phase learners who were having their prepared meal. These learners were the second group of the morning to take their places in the small kitchen. Most of the plates were almost empty and the children were curious to see me and Ernst Easu, the principal, joining them to have a chat.

 

Nothing beats the zest for life displayed by children. When I asked them who loves school, all their hands go up, some with spoons carefully balancing a bit of food in them. There was no way the filled spoon was going to block them from participating in this show and tell. Then I asked whether I could take a picture of them with their principal. Yes, they chanted and immediately the learners started creating a space for Ernst to sit. A bit of jostling ensued amongst a few of the learners to get their principal to sit next to them. Ernst enjoyed this playful scene and pretended he was having difficulty choosing a spot. Eventually Ernst decided to sit at the end of the low bench, squeezing between two learners who were not going to give up their prime spot next to him.

 

After our photo shoot, the children and I continued chatting. When I asked them about their reading habits, the responses came fast and furiously. One girl said she had already read ten books since the year started. Another boy, in a half- standing position to make sure I see him, told me he had just completed a book on penguins. He borrowed books from the mobile library that came to their area once a week. Another told me he is reading about the lion who wore big shoes to make him look bigger and taller. It is so refreshing to experience the bubbly innocence of young children.

 

It is heartening to know that these children who are part of the school's nutritional plan do not have hang ups about receiving these meals.However, according to Mary-Anne, the secretary of the school, not all the children who come to school hungry, come to have a meal. Often teachers have to coax these reluctant learners to have a meal. Mary-Anne said they the teachers would identify those learners who are listless and sleepy early in the day already and on investigation, find that they have not eaten.


She told me about a Grade 1 girl who started vomiting one day. Her teacher then discovered this young child had not eaten anything since the day before. The little one explained the family did not have supper because there was nothing to eat at home. She had had her last meal - a small breakfast - the day before. Imagine having to concentrate and play on an empty stomach! Fortunately this learner is now on the nutritional programme at the school. What makes it difficult for needy learners too,is that other learners tease them for receiving meals at the school. These needy learners do not want to stand out, they would rather forfeit a much- needed meal.

 

Children are acutely aware of the attitudes of those around them. The fact that children will skip a meal at school to prevent them from being labelled is a sad example. This is the reality. They may not be able to articulate their feelings when others make them feel like charity basket cases, but their behaviour or their physical health may be the telltale sign of their resistance against stigmas or rejection. Fortunately, the actions of the volunteer cook, Ernst and Mary-Anne, showed no nuanced negative attitude towards the children who came to have their meal. I could see that in the relaxed way the learners related to these three adults and even towards me, a total stranger to them.

 

It would really be a booster if each poor school could have a sustainable, thriving vegetable garden on their premises. Such an initiative takes commitment, time and active community involvement - all those inputs that are in short supply in poor communities. If only each school could have been blessed with a community worker who is passionate enough to drive such a project and bring in other resources to keep such a vegetable garden going.

One never knows what the future holds... Where there is a will, there is a way.

Happy schools make happy children

 

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