16 kilometres just for food
edited: Tuesday, June 14, 2005
By morris austine mwavizo
Not "rated" by the Author.
Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2005
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how WFP is helping feed pastrolic communities in Tanzania
The air is hot and the land, dry. The wide plains are bare except for a few shrubs here and there with grass fields in between. The grass is scorched to a pale yellow, dust rises with the slightest breeze and the sun is still getting hotter. Apart from mirages of water bodies, a creation of the ever-shinning sun, the only other feature on the landscape are the herds of indigenous cattle that can be seen grazing in a distance. In this area where water is a rare commodity, farming has given way to pastrolism and the inhabitants of these lands often migrate from one region to another in search of pasture. In between the wide plains, far from each other are scattered homelands where the majority of the population (who happen to be the Maasai) live.
This is Monduli district in Arusha region. The semi-arid area of approximately 14,000 kilometres squared with a population of 196,000 people is served by 74 public primary schools. That means for every 189 kilometres squared there is one public primary school.
Even more disheartening than that fact is that low primary school enrolment and attendance rates persist here as many students are withdrawn from school to work, particularly during the dry season. This is especially common among the pastoralists who migrate in search of greener pastures for their livestock. Dropouts also occur when food shortages force boarding schools to close (temporarily or permanently) or to limit their student intake.
In Esilalei primary school (A day school situated 132 kilometres from Arusha Town) for example there are pupils who walk over 16 kilometres to school and 16 back every day.
As a result smaller children and most girls who are not able to walk long distances are left behind and if they start school they do so when they are older than the recommended age.
The case is even more saddening as many children have only one meal in a day.
What makes that fact even more scary is that the school is next to the road that leads to Lake Manyara National Park region and cases of wildlife roaming in the area are not rare.
Despite this fact there is an increase in class one enrolment. This can be attributed to the fact that education has been made free by the government. Suprisingly here the number of children younger than the set age for primary school have been hanging around the school and this has forced the school to open a pre primary unit.
“More and more young children accompany their elder brothers and sisters because of the two meals offered in the school,” the headmaster of Esilalei primary school Yessa Meena says.
Esilalei primary school is one of those schools incorporated in a World Food Programme project meant to Support Primary Education in Food-insecure Areas. The school got into the programme in June 2004. The project seeks to contribute to the achievement of the second Millennium Development Goal (universal primary education), as well as the Government of Tanzania’s Poverty Reduction Strategy and Education Sector Development Programme.
The programme so far provides a mid-morning porridge and cooked lunch to 152,000 children in day schools alone. Additional 3,360 children at boarding schools receive two daily meals (breakfast and lunch or dinner) from WFP, as well as a third meal provided by the Government.
Since the introduction of school feeding in 2000, average attendance rates at the schools have risen from 40 percent to 74 percent. Enrolment has also risen, while dropout rates have fallen. Assisted boarding schools, which were previously liable to frequent temporary closures due to food shortages, have all remained open since the project began.
Areas that have benefited from the programme include Arusha, Manyara, Dodoma and Singida. The project is co-ordinated by the Ministry of Education and Culture and District Educational Officers (DEOs) who supervise food deliveries and monitor activities. WFP transports food and provides technical support and training to Government staff.
The objectives of the programme are to first increase enrolment and attendance in primary schools while at the same time reducing dropout. Secondly improving learning capacity of students at assisted schools by alleviating their short-term hunger. Thirdly to enable boarding schools that experience food shortages to function at full capacity throughout the whole school year.
In Monduli district Arusha region, 27 out of the 74 public schools are in the programme but national wide there are 329 schools in the programme.
“This is an arid area,” says District executive officer Edam Munisi. “Food is scarce and most adults who go to the markets eat there and the children who are left at home survive on starchy foods as Maasai rarely slaughter their animals.”
Food is not the only problem as poverty has taken its toll on the community and as a result, schools don’t put pressure on parents to pay for anything.
“If you send the children back home because they have not paid fees,” says Ally Athmani the head teacher of Engaruka Juu primary school, “they don’t come back. Instead their parents send them to take care of the cattle.”
With this thought in mind, a solution would be funds raising. The issue of the Community coming together and raising funds to assist their schools could be a way out but in an area such as Monduli district, it requires the efforts of parents teachers and local government authorities which is at times lacks.
“Some locally elected leaders are afraid of rubbing the community the wrong way,” says Mathew Laiser the chairman of Engaruka Juu primary school.” If the issue involves raising funds and the community is reluctant, he won’t pressurise them and lose chances of being elected next time.”
But he believes that if persuaded properly by an influential leader the community could raise some funds. So far no leader has availed himself/herself.
As a result, some of the basic requirements that the schools need are missing. Engaruka Juu needs more toilets, cooking utensils and food stores as they use one of the classrooms as a store. Esilalei primary on the other hand has a problem with even stationary and though it has plans to turn to a boarding school, the dream is still far from being achieved as it is struggling to get basics such as water and now and then it is forced to seek the assistance of National park services to get water, of course at a price.
The schools lucky enough to be near the main road to Lake Manyara park have had tourists turning up at the schools and providing help in terms of books and pencils. Although this is helpful to the students, they end up disrupting classes and the students learn how to beg every time they see a tourist.
“If the tourists have to donate everything then they should follow the right channels,” says George Lowassa a supply and logistics officer and also a co-ordinator of WFP feeding programme in Monduli district. “Donating at the schools does not guarantee accountability. They should send their donations to local authorities who can record and account for them if need be.”
Boarding schools look like a way out but for a school like Engarika Juu primary that started in 1959 as partly a day school and partly boarding, things have not yet streamlined them selves. Even though the school has 840 pupils (538 boys and 302 girls) the boarders are plagued by lack of beds and as a result only 292 boys and 111 girls have been able to get boarding space. The school is making efforts to build a bigger dormitory but the current dormitories are faced with a shortage of beds and some students sleep on mattresses, without beds.
Protective nets are not even in the school agenda.
“When the new dormitory is finished it will be able to accommodate 160 girls,” says Ally Athmani the headmaster. He is also counting on National Park services that have promised to provide some beds.
Boarding schools are a sanctuary for most Maasai girls who have reached the initiation period and are running away from forced marriage. The fact that they are in school prevents some parents from marrying them off early as they try to avoid conflicts with the governments.
School authorities agree that since the WFP programme started the school has seen an increase in enrolment but what they clearly point out is the number of students who skip school and absent themselves for no reason has reduced to zero.
Although the WFP programme will even buy cooking and eating materials for the schools, the community (that is the parents and teachers) are expected to combine forces and ensure that they build stores, kitchens and pay for both the guards and cooks in the school. Still this posse as a problem as some parents cannot understand why the WFP programme does not cater for all this.
“There is a need to synthesis the schools and community around them to ensure they understand what to expect from the programme,” says Willbroad Karugaba a WFP co-ordinator.
WFP realised that food was not the only way to improve education level. It has looked for funds from other organisations and with their help has helped construct stores, kitchens, build water tanks and classes in certain parts of the country. They criteria they are using to select schools that need assistance is the schools that are in area that severely affected by drought and those that serve the Maasai community.
Even with this help schools in Monduli district need more if they are to do better.
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