International School Meals Day: School Feeding Programs Enhance Students’ Health, Academic Performance
COCONUT CREEK, Fla. (March 9, 2023) Before participating in the Food For The Poor (FFTP) School Feeding Program at Dora Secondary School in Guyana, cousins Sara and Aneesa’s school attendance was sporadic, and their grades suffered. Now, thanks to FFTP and its generous donors, the girls’ school attendance is much better, and their grades are steadily improving.
The feeding program has been a catalyst for growth at the school and fostered a positive change in students’ attitude, behavior and their overall well-being, Dora Secondary School Headmistress Ruth Inniss-Wickman said.
“The feeding program is of great value since many of our students leave their homes with no breakfast,” she said. “Because of the acute socio- and economic crisis within the school catchment area, the feeding program is a necessity.”
The success of the program is a testament to the significance of International School Meals Day this year on March 9. Celebrated each year on the second Thursday of March, International School Meals Day emphasizes the connection between healthy eating, education and better learning.
Food insecurity is a concern in many countries around the globe, including Guyana. According to the Caribbean COVID-19 Food Security & Livelihoods Impact Survey Report (2022), Guyana has experienced an increase in food insecurity from April 2020 to August 2022.
Using the United Nation’s Food Insecurity Experience Scale, 56 percent of the survey’s respondents are either severely or moderately food insecure. More than 60 percent also have experienced being worried about having enough food to eat to avoid skipping meals, reducing meal sizes, or going to bed hungry. Only a quarter of respondents have food stocks that would last for more than a week.
“When children are hungry, they are unable to study or focus on anything else,” FFTP President/CEO Ed Raine said. “We are grateful that our generous donors understand that these children represent the future of their communities, and their education is vital to giving the next generation a chance to escape the cycle of poverty.”
Dora Secondary School is in Kuru Kuru, a tiny village of 500 people who live in modest concrete or wooden homes in informal settlements of Indigenous families who left their original home in search of a better life. With few job opportunities, unemployment is high, especially among women.
The Dora Secondary School Feeding Program is one of 17 in Guyana, including 11 completed programs and six that are still in progress. To date, FFTP has operated 28 school feeding projects in the Caribbean and Latin America, including 21 that have been completed and seven that are still underway, providing meals for more than 9,100 beneficiaries.
Like Dora Secondary School, the Sophia Primary Feeding Program project provides hot, nutritious meals for its 100 students. The Sophia neighborhood is part of the capital city of Georgetown located in the Demerara-Mahaica region of Guyana. With an estimated population of 30,000, the neighborhood’s residents suffer from high unemployment and a soaring crime rate.
Many of the children in Sophia live in single-parent homes or are raised by grandparents because their parents are unable to care for them and they attend school solely because of the feeding program. The meals provide the energy students need to focus and study, improving their academic performance and boosting their self-esteem.
In another region of Guyana, the Kairuni Nursery School Feeding Program provides one meal per school day for each of the 29 students, ranging from 3 to 6 years old. They especially need nutritious meals at such a crucial time in their physical and cognitive development.
More than 9 percent of children under age 5 suffer from stunting and 6.4 percent from wasting due to malnutrition, the Global Nutrition Report on Guyana said.
According to the National Institutes of Health, stunted children have impaired behavioral development in early life, are less likely to enroll at school, enroll late, and tend to achieve lower grades. They have poorer cognitive ability than non-stunted children.
Kairuni is a village in the southwest corner of Demerara-Mahaica. Most families live in one-bedroom shacks without electricity or clean water, using rainwater or nearby streams to drink, cook food, bathe, and clean their clothes and homes.
The unemployment rate is high in Kairuni, especially among women and younger people because many of them drop out of high school. This cycle of poverty and unemployment prevents families from having easy access to food for their children.
“The Food for the Poor School Feeding Program removes one of the greatest deterrents to a child’s education in Guyana – that deterrent is hunger,” said Kent Vincent, CEO of FFTP-Guyana. “The program enables the capacity of vulnerable children to learn and be creative.”
Food For The Poor, one of the largest international relief and development organizations in the nation, does much more than feed millions of hungry children and families living in poverty in 19 countries of the Caribbean and Latin America. This interdenominational Christian ministry provides emergency relief assistance, water, medicine, educational materials, homes, support for vulnerable children, care for the aged, skills training and micro-enterprise development assistance. For more information, please visit www.FoodForThePoor.org.