I know first-hand what it's like to try and learn Algebra on an empty stomach
By Daniel Wang'ang'a
In Primary School, I was fortunate to become a beneficiary of a school meals programme in rural Kenya. I could not go home for the one-hour lunch break because I had to walk 3km one way. If I ran home, I would be hungry by the time I got back to school.
Then, when I was in Grade 5, a universal milk programme was introduced by the Kenyan government, and I remember thinking that was the best thing that could ever happen!
The milk came in packets, and we would share the milk amongst us children. We treated that milk as precious cargo, and it gave us the energy we needed for our studies in the afternoon.
I vividly remember the many times I went to school on an empty stomach as a child and how being able to eat a meal at school changed my future trajectory in so many ways. Having been a beneficiary of these programmes, I wholeheartedly believe in the transformative power of school meals.
For my children, school meals are part of their typical school day in Kenya. As a parent, I experience daily and first-hand the many benefits school meals provide. I know that my children eat a healthy meal at school every day which helps their learning and means they have more time and energy to participate in school activities. As a result, they can contribute at home because they are healthier – and happier.
I recognise the privilege of this resource provided through my children's private schools. Yet, I reflect on the trouble that many other parents go through to feed their kids during the morning and lunch of the school day. Sadly, children in public schools cannot access this right to nutrition at school without a national school meals policy.
School meals are a game-changer for children, parents, farmers, and their communities.
As someone who’s day job with World Vision means I’ve implemented school meals programmes for over 20 years, I know that the benefits to children and parents are only the tip of the iceberg. School meals have many advantages: the potential to transform food systems; to improve children's health, nutrition, and education; and they provide child and gender-sensitive safety nets. School meals are essential for a child's wellbeing and growth, human capital development, as well as achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.
The new World Food Programme's (WFP) School Meals Strategy places school feeding, nutrition, health, and preventing malnutrition-related diseases at the core of its mission. School meals attract children to school, increases attendance, and improves children's focus and performance, with particularly strong benefits for the most vulnerable children. School meals also serve a child protection function, as schools are key places where child protection issues can be recognised and addressed, which means minimising risks to children. Finally, when parents know their children will be taken care of, they have more time to take care of other responsibilities in their community, such as agriculture or food procurement. Every meal provided at school to children feeds into thousands of jobs for adults through available time for parents to engage in meaningful livelihood activities and potential human capital development for children. A school that nourishes its pupils creates infinite opportunities in their neighbourhood and serves as a cornerstone to address various other social issues facing their communities.
School Meals Done Well
I am a strong advocate for School Meals done well - meaning that they are both free and healthy. School meals done well has everything to do with 1) incorporating healthy ingredients into what is on the plate and 2) ensuring the supply chain – and the food it provides to children in schools – delivers nutritious, locally produced (and appropriate) food in a timely, effective, sustainable, manner, and is free. Oversight is also a vital component to ensure that items are correctly stored and rationed. Finally, adherence to strong standards is also essential to avoid theft or misappropriation that could result in children not getting their rations.
The implementation of school meals programmes must ensure poor children will not be further marginalised by the way that the meals are administered. Over the years, I have seen that many things can go wrong. For this reason, we must consider the risks and hold ourselves and other actors in implementing school meals programmes accountable to high standards.
Partnerships for Food Systems Transformation through School Meals
World Vision works closely with our biggest partner, WFP, on school meals. WFP is a providing support to governments to establish national policies and programmes on school meals. In 2020, World Vision provided school meals to 834,200 kids in 7 countries through our partnership with WFP. These programmes have been particularly successful due to our value-added approach. World Vision adds value to our food delivery by using our complimentary funds to ensure that school meals programmes are integrated with other important activities critical for children’s well-being, such as nutrition, water, sanitation, hygiene, health services and child and gender-protection.
In Sudan, World Vision and WFP have partnered on school meals programmes that are reaching 70,000 children across 81 schools in South Darfur state. Before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, each child was provided with a wet meal every day. Now, with the schools closed, children are being given dry food rations to take home, which they will definitely have to share with the entire family.
The Launch of the School Meals Coalition
WFP’s new approach to school meals includes consultation from many stakeholders brings a fresh approach to school meals by focusing more on national governments taking ownership of national school meals programmes. The Global School Meals Coalition is a key result of these consultations. With its launch at the UN Food Systems Summit this week, the Coalition is a government-led initiative which, at last count, has more than 138 governments involved.
Between 1 October 2019 – 30 September 2020 alone, the WFP-World Vision Partnership reached more than 12 million of the world’s most vulnerable children, women, and men across 29 countries. More than 50% of beneficiaries were children. Of WFP’s support, 83% was used to improve the lives of children and their families in the most fragile contexts where World Vision works.
Looking ahead, we must transition towards sustainable funding and financial models for School Meals. National governments must take the lead and integrate school meals programmes into national development plans and budgets, with UN agencies and civil society partners playing a supportive role and providing technical assistance. World Vision is already at the table in many countries, contributing our expertise, research, and experience. Through our programmes to reach the most vulnerable children, we interface directly with children who benefit from school meals and their families. Our responsibility is to connect what we are learning in the field, influence policy at the national and global levels, and pick up those global issues, ensuring that we bring them back to the child.
World Vision aspires that children who receive school meals are educated for life, experience good health and nutrition, be cared for and loved, feel protected, and, that one day, they will be better able to serve as leaders in their own communities, nations, and to the next generation.
Daniel Wanganga is the Senior Director, Technical Resources Team with Disaster Management Team. He has been with World Vision for over 25 years and has 20+ years of experience working in School Meals. In his current role, he leads a team of technical experts in guiding food assistance operational excellence, guiding the growth of Cash Transfers, and providing guidance on Core Sectors in an Emergency Response, including School Meals. Follow Daniel on Twitter @Wanganga_Daniel
Register now for the UN Food Systems Summit on 23 September! You can also watch the Pre-Summit session on the School Meals Coalition hosted by WFP here.
 World Vision Beneficiary Report FY2020