#LockdownSA: Prioritise feeding hungry learners

#LockdownSA: Prioritise feeding hungry learnersSouth African schools who are beneficiaries of the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP), will begin receiving daily healthy meals –whether back at school or not (File Photo)

Discussions about the schooling program for the rest of the year are still underway, but the majority of children who rely on the National School Nutrition Programme remain without access to their meals.

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Equal Education (EE) together with education, children’s advocacy and social justice organisations such the Children’s Institute, Section27 and the Centre for Child Law have written a letter to the Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga, stating that that there is a pressing need to ensure that learners have continued access to critical nutrition provisioning, through the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP).

 The NSNP provides meals to nine million children across the country — and for many children, the single meal the programme provides is their only square meal a day. According to a 2018 Department of Science and Innovation-National Research Foundation Centre of Excellence in Food Security working paper, the programme has reached 9-million children in over 20 000 schools every school day. Although no rigorous assessment of the NSNP has been undertaken, the researchers noted that the programme has the ability to increase children’s educational performance, and has the potential to contribute to household food security.

Protect vulnerable children’s nutrition

But since the national lockdown’s instatement, the NSNP has come to a standstill and children on the programme haven’t been able to access their meals.

 Speaking to Health-e News, Leanne Jansen-Thomas of EE says that they understand that the Food and Nutrition Security Coordination Committee (FNSCC) is leading efforts to coordinate various departments, including the Department of Social Development (DSD), the Department of Health (DoH) and the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

“Currently, the FNSCC has sought to introduce a hunger mitigation strategy for children, including children benefiting from the NSNP. Interventions are reported to include the distribution of food parcels to beneficiaries through local and provincial distribution centres with implementing agents having been appointed for each province,” Jansen-Thomas says.

However, according to EE and other concerned organisations, there are issues with this method. The criteria of the selected distribution points, as well as the safety and accessibility of distribution points are not clear. 

“But we are concerned that distribution centres may not be adequately accessible to those in need, particularly in rural areas. It is also unclear what safety measures are being put in place to protect children who may be in a position of having to collect food parcels themselves,” she tells Health-e News.

National implementation necessary

She further says that the proposal put forward by the Gauteng provincial government last month — that food packages be distributed to learners through schools — should be implemented nationally. 

“This position has recently been implemented by the Western Cape Education Department,” the open letter to Minister Motshekga reads.

According to a statement released by the Westen Cape provincial government, schools started feeding children for two days a week, from 6 April. However, other schools might wish to feed daily, and that is the decision made by schools on an individual basis. The statement further says that learners will not sit down at schools and eat, but will collect the food in containers brought from home.

“We are urging the national DBE and provincial education departments to implement this recommendation at a national level, utilising existing NSNP funding and coordinating with DSD’s food parcel and social relief of distress programmes to ensure all NSNP beneficiaries are fed,” Jansen-Thomas tells Health-e News.

In the open letter, some of the organisations’ recommendations include:

  • schools be deemed essential service facilities for purposes of serving as collection points;
  • social distancing measures be put in place including, for example, staggering collection dates and times and limiting numbers of collections per day;
  • scholar transport buses be used to facilitate mobile collection and delivery; and
  • where school-based feeding programmes are not possible, the use of voucher systems should be considered, provided that vouchers are redeemable at all local outlets (including spaza shops). — Health-e News

 

For more information on Covid-19 in South Africa, you can call the toll-free line on 0800 029 999, or you can send a message that says “Hi” on WhatsApp to the number 060 012 3456. You can also visit the SA Coronavirus website.