Aug 8, 2014, 10:12 AM
World Food Programme (WFP) in collaboration with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education on Wednesday commemorated International School Meals Day at the July 22nd Square in Banjul.
African Union heads of state adopted 1 March as the African Day of School Feeding in view of the immense value school feeding has in enhancing retention and performance of children in schools.
The theme for this year was ‘Fresh and Healthy Local Foods. Home Grown School Feeding: A driver for sustainable development’.
WFP Country Representative Victoria Ginja said the school meal programme is one of the powerful means of encouraging enrollment and retention of children at school.
“This contributes to the achievements of education goals, especially the elimination of gender gap,” she said, adding that several studies have shown that it is very difficult for children to learn without adequate food and nutrition.
Madam Ginja said everyone can testify that it is not easy to learn with an empty stomach; therefore, children must eat nutritious, diversified healthy meals every single day which is provided through the school meals.
She said the feeding programme has the potential, in The Gambia, to help families support their children’s education while protecting their food security.
“This goes a long way to increase the chances of children’s becoming healthy and productive adults,” the diplomat said.
Madam Ginja said there is a need to advocate for expansion and accessibility of the school feeding programme, adding that it is such direction that the both WFP and The Gambia government are working towards.
Presently, more than 100,000 school children in 360 schools across The Gambia receive daily meals, she said.
Justice Minister Mama Fatima Singhateh, who delivered the launching statement on behalf of First Lady Zineb Jammeh, said The Gambia took the initiative of commemorating school meals since last year, before the AU declaration.
She said there are lots of reasons to celebrate the day in the country because the children in school enjoy hot daily meals prepared by dedicated women.
“The recent partnership with local smallholder farmers, most of whom are women, is also a great milestone,” the minister said. “Linking small scale farmers to school feeding programmes help support rural economies and make programmes more sustainable.”
Justice Singhateh said the importance of school meals go beyond just filling the bellies of the children.
“It can break the cycle of hunger, poverty, and improve growth, cognitive capacity and the general wellbeing of the child,” she explained.
She further noted that while there are continuous efforts to promote local economies through the home grown school meals, commitment must be made to invest to improve the food and nutrition security of communities.
“I therefore strongly urge all of you ‘friend of school meals’ to make a strong commitment to contribute to the sustainability of this programme,” the minister said. “School meals are a critical safety net and vital investment in the future of our children and the country at large.”
Hassan Cham, a representative of the Lord Mayor of Banjul, said more than 3,000 school children in Banjul alone eat daily meals in school, thanks to European Union, the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, and WFP.“I must say that the programme is of immense value to our communities,” he said.“While it is an education ‘booster’ for our children, it also supports our local smallholder farmers especially through the new approach which buys locally grown foods.”