Tackling Malnutrition

Tackling Malnutrition in Schools

Food shortages are still a problem affecting millions of people living in Ethiopia. The problem is perhaps felt most acutely among children, who may suffer an inability to attain information in school due to hunger or malnourishment. A number of organisations are working to improve the situation for hundreds of thousands of school-aged children in an effort to increase educational attainment. EBR’s adjunct staff writer Meseret Mamo spoke with educators and those working to quell child hunger to learn more about the efforts to reduce its prevalence and improve educational outcomes.

Tarikua Bekelle, 13, is a fifth grade student at Megabit 28 Primary School located in the Nifasilk Lafto District. She has two sisters and a brother – and all depend on the little income their mother earns by cleaning the condominium houses in their neighbourhood. As a result, Tarikua, her brother and sisters usually don’t eat when they come to school for lunch. “I go home during lunchtime, but my mom may or may not leave lunch, so there are times that I eat nothing the whole day,” Tarikua told EBR. “This has a great effect on my learning capacity.”
Certainly, nutritional status has powerful influences on children’s learning ability and determines how well a child performs in school. In Ethiopia, children like Tarikua, who suffer from protein malnutrition and hunger, do not have the same potential for learning as well-fed and nourished children. This is because poor nutrition diminishes school children’s cognitive development through physiological changes and by reducing their ability to participate in learning process.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, malnutrition can have long-lasting implications in early childhood development, especially as it pertains to learning abilities. “Evidence is already available to suggest that malnutrition during the first few years of life does have an adverse effect on subsequent learning and behaviour.”
Unfortunately, stakeholders say this is a widespread problem throughout the country. Ethiopia Tadesse, who has worked in government schools for nearly 30 years, says witnessing under-fed children is a common occurrence. “I have seen many malnourished children who look dizzy and sometimes faint and vomit although they say they are simply sick,” she says. “I am used to the situation and usually they will be ok when we provide them with some food.”
This is a reality that shocked First Lady Roman Tesfaye five years ago, when she was working at the Human Rights Commission as a researcher. She was assigned to investigate students’ participation in Addis Ababa schools. While she was doing her job she saw dizzy and sick students and found out that they didn’t eat.
“This was the shocking truth,” said Roman, when discussing the establishment of Ye-Enat Weg Charitable Association to participants at an event on June 13, 2016 at the Office of the Prime Minister to award those who participate in the school feeding programme.
The event was attended by prominent figures like Shiferaw Shigute, Minister of Education; Mohammed Hussein Ali Al Amoudi, a Saudi Arabian billionaire of Ethiopian descent; and La Yifan, Chinese Ambassador to Ethiopia, in addition to different business leaders and representative from Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations. All appreciated the intent of Ye-Enat Weg’s programme and its performance while promising to continue their support.
“I am very happy and feel privileged to serve as a channel between these children and those who are willing to help them,” said Roman at the event. “I hope the programme will continue until there are no children who attend school with an empty stomach.”
The First Lady established Ye-Enat Weg in February 2015 and started by feeding 5,106 children within two months of its establishment in six districts of Addis Ababa. Now Ye-Enat Weg is feeding 20,000 students in 208 primarily schools during breakfast and lunch in all districts of Addis Ababa, with the annual budget of ETB57 million. The daily cost of feeding each child during breakfast and lunch is ETB12.
Currently in Addis Ababa there are 220 government owned and 590 private primary schools teaching 287,932 and 206,219 students, respectively. This means though government owned primary schools constitute only a quarter of the total primary schools operating in the capital, they provide education for more than half of the primary school-aged population.
According to the information provided by Ye-Enat Weg, there are 20,000 students in government owned primary schools who don’t get proper feeding. However, the First Lady told EBR that they expect the number to increase next academic year because they learnt that there are still many who haven’t expressed their need for food.
“We are expecting the number of beneficiaries to increase to 30,000 next academic year,” says Daniel Worku, Supervisor at Ye-Enat Weg. “If that happens it will be difficult for us to continue our work since there is lack of support from the community.”
Globally, the objectives of school feeding programmes are to provide meals to reduce short-term hunger in the classroom so that the students can concentrate and learn better and to attract children to school and have them attend regularly.
Although the degree of success differs, there is evidence from a number of developing countries that school feeding programmes have fulfilled some or all of these objectives. For instance, a study conducted in Malawi by the United Nations World Food Programme showed that a three-month pilot school feeding programme led to a 5Pct increase in enrolment and a 36Pct improvement in attendance.
Another evaluation of a school feeding programme in Burkina Faso found that school canteens were associated with increased school enrolment, regular attendance, consistently lower repeater rates, lower dropout rates, and higher success rates on national exams, especially among girls.
These could be a good lesson for Ethiopia, where chronic food insecurity, poor infant and young child feeding practices and high rates of infectious diseases persist, which lead to high rates of malnutrition. Despite the progress the country has made in quelling stunted growth, close to 40Pct of children under the age of five are still stunted, according to the survey conducted by the Central Statistical Agency in 2013, while malnutrition contributes to over half of all child deaths.
Drawing from the experience at Megabit 28 Primary School, Ethiopia says around 80Pct of students need to be included in the school’s feeding programme. There are only 174 students, including Tarikua, who are included in the programme run by Ye-Enat Weg out of the total 1,900 in Megabit 28 Primary School. “The people who live around the school are very poor and don’t make enough money to feed themselves and their children,” Ethiopia indicates.
One such parent is Emebet Wasihun, a mother of five in her mid-thirties, who used to make a living by selling tella, a traditional alcoholic beverage, in the Nifa Silk Lafto District near Megabit 28 Primary School. After she became sick and her husband died a couple of years ago, she couldn’t continue to earn her income. Since she only works occasionally at the moment, she sends her three children to government schools. However, only one of her children benefits from the school feeding programme.
Ethiopia is one of five individuals in the school who identify the needy children to be included in the feeding programme. “Children who lost one of their parents, those living with people other than their parents and children living on their own as well as HIV-positive students or those who have parents living with HIV and special need students are the ones that are eligible to enrol in the school feeding programme,” Ethiopia told EBR.
It is not only Ye-Enat Weg Charitable Association that’s established school feeding programmes throughout the capital. According to information from Addis Ababa Education Bureau, there are currently 75 non-governmental, foreign and international organisations that work to provide food, school supplies as well as improving access to potable water and sanitation.
Nevertheless, Dagnew Gebremedhin, Charitable Organisations Projects Monitoring and Evaluation Expert at the Addis Ababa Education Bureau, says that there is a problem of ceasing school feeding programmes after a short period of time. “Most organisations will not renew their licenses after the project phases out,” affirms Dagnew. “Children with financial gaps need assistance until they join higher education. So interrupted assistance will be meaningless.”
Indeed, many studies conducted on the subject indicate that school feeding programmes are often interrupted in developing countries. This is because the world’s food resources are dwindling, while there increased competition for food aid. On the other hand, the use of public resources for feeding programmes is being diverted to achieve other developmental goals.
These changing global dynamics also affected the Food for Education Programme introduced by the government in 1994 with 40 schools in the states of Afar, Amhara, Oromia and Tigray, involving 25,000 school children. Although the government managed to expand the Programme to benefit 630,000 school children in 2006, it was reduced to cover only 372,000 school children in 2007 due to multilateral development funding constraints. However, according to Shiferaw, the government is currently feeding close to five million school children in drought-prone areas.
On March 2016, the Ministry of Education also announced that the government will implement a new national school feeding programme at all schools as part of the newly developed National School Health Nutrition Strategy. The new programme, which is integrated with the national education system, will be applicable to all schools – either private or public – in towns or rural areas.
The feeding scheme will primarily be applied in primary schools as a pilot project and will consequently cascade to other levels. The new design builds on the previous school feeding programme and targets schools where students are vulnerable to malnutrition and food shortage.
Research suggests that the School Feeding Programme could well be scaled up to benefit many more nutritionally disadvantaged children. However, studies indicate that an intense evaluation must be undertaken to select the target groups before implementing the programme.
Since international assistance towards the programme is declining, some believe that it should only cover those areas where malnutrition is a serious problem, school enrolment and attendance rates are low and dropout rates are high in order to achieve maximum benefit. In this regard, urban slums and rural areas with the highest concentration of undernourished children and lowest levels of educational attainment are promising areas for expansion. EBR

4th Year • July 16 2016 – August 15 2016 • No. 41


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