I recently had the privilege of visiting some schools in low-income neighborhoods of Cap Haitien, to observe some of the school feeding programs that Meds and Foods for Kids (MFK) is conducting through a grant from the US Department of Agriculture. MFK has been distributing a new snack for school children called Vita Mamba, which is essentially peanut butter that is loved by most kids in Haiti, fortified with the necessary vitamins and minerals to fill widely prevalent local deficiencies. While it was saddening to see the condition of schools and quality of education, it was inspiring to see the positive impact of the school feeding program, from the bright-eyed participation in the classroom, energy into the playgrounds and beaming smiles on the kids’ faces.
School in Haiti with a large single room shared between 6 Grades, being taught at the same time
Snacks available at schools today have limited or no nutritional content
This got me thinking about how school feeding programs were doing across the world, and it was encouraging to see several recent reports from leading aid organizations (World Food Program and Save the Children) highlighting the power of such interventions and the need for increased donor focus. As rightly called out, these programs represent an investment in future prosperity of nations like Haiti and should not be seen as a social cost. Their findings showed that providing the right nutrition early on in a child’s life can improve cognitive development and overall immunity to disease, which can lead to increased productivity later on in life, giving children born in poverty a fighting chance to lift themselves out of its vicious cycle.
Hungry bellies have no ears – many kids come to school without a meal and have difficulty paying attention in class
The education stats in Haiti are dismal – only 50% of people over 15 are literate, nearly half of primary school age children are not enrolled in school and 60% of students enrolled in primary will abandon school before the 6th grade. In a country where ~35%d of the population is under 15, under-investment in education and nutrition can have a crippling effect on future economic prosperity of the country. With this context, carefully designed school feeding programs can provide a multitude of benefits in Haiti:
– Encourage enrollment, attendance and classroom focus: for many kids, a meal at school is often the only meal they would receive all day, and being hungry in class impacts the ability to learn
– Fill nutritional gaps in local diets and prevent malnutrition: rice and beans often form the staple of most households, resulting in deficiencies of proteins, essential minerals and vitamins for school children in Haiti, which can be addressed with the right nutritional profile food.
– Promote economic growth in local communities: feeding school children with locally produced food made from local ingredients can provide valuable employment opportunities and improve farmer livelihoods
With the launch of MFK’s Vita Mamba this year, we were incredibly excited to see a positive response from local NGO’s and larger organizations like the World Food Programme, who will be purchasing these snacks for distribution in the upcoming 2013-14 school year.
To my fellow Canadian taxpayers, I hope you will be as happy as I was to see the announcement that Canada will continue to support school feeding here in Haiti for the new school year, in addition to feeding over 1 Million school children last year.
Here’s wishing for another productive, well-fed and happy year for school children in Haiti who start their new school year on October 1st !
Vita Mamba gets a strong reception from students!