As the old creole saying goes, “empty crocus bag cyaahn stan’ up” – it means that if you haven’t eaten, you won’t be good for much. Well, multiply that by ten, for a young student who hasn’t eaten and is expected to sit in a hot classroom and listen to mostly boring teachers wax on while their belly is growling like a caged jaguar.
Indeed, hunger is a reality in many schools across Belize – and now the Ministry of Education is trying to address it with the launch of a school meals programme. It’s already up and running and feeding kids in the Belize and Stann Creek districts – but it was officially launched today. 7news was there when lunch was served.
Dr. Candy Armstrong - Director of Education Support Services
"The Ministry of Education is currently providing 100% funding for the three School Meal Programmes in two districts, Belize and Stann Creek. A mid-day meal is provided for all students who are beneficiaries to this programme. In addition, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health, students receive De-worming tablets, vitamin A supplement, access to dental care and they engage in regular activity while they are at school."
Jules Vasquez reporting
This kitchen at the Skills Training Center Magazine Road churns out 700 meals daily facility part of a Southside school meals programme.
Hon. Patrick Faber - Minister of Education
"It is a state of the art kitchen that we've invested and tremendous amount of money in."
Everyday these packs are prepared on a tight timeline and sent off warm to 13 schools on the city’s Southside.
Dr. Candy Armstrong
"The meals for the southside School Meals Programme are being prepared and packaged here at the skills training center and delivered to 700 selective students from 13 schools on the Southside of Belize City."
It’s working at St Ignatius where one hundred children get meals daily.
Lureen Ciego - Principal, St. Ignatius
"The meals get here on time and it is checked, it's good. It leaves from here and it gets to my school around 11:00a.m. as they have scheduled on time, all the time."
Hon. Patrick Faber
"You know I am told that these people have everything planned down to the button. The time that the meal should arrive at the school so that it's not cold and they have made sure that the correct amount of nutrients is in every plate so that we are not just giving children food for giving them sake but we're making sure that they are getting an absolutely healthy meal."
For this principal it makes a difference:
"For sure those children who do not have a healthy or a nutritious or a meal to look forward to can have low performance, low academic achievement, disillusion, drop out - all those factors will contribute to a student who doesn't have a meal."
"What sort of change have you seen in your school since the introduction of this feeding programme?"
"For sure I have seen the attendance improve in our students and more and more students are coming to school and they look forward to that healthy meal at mid-day."
"How many meals do you feed everyday?"
"I feed approximately 75-100 children."
Dr. Candy Armstrong
"Healthy students have more potential for learning. Mal nourished and unhealthy children perform poorly in school and repeat more classes and drop out of school. Even temporary hunger, common in children who are not fed before going to school can have an adverse effect on learning. Iron deficiency and Anemia can lead to shorten attention span and irritability, fatigue and difficulty with concentration."
Hon. Patrick Faber
"But we do understand that there are indeed still a high incidence of poverty and if the government does not do these kinds of thing and if the other partners do not step in then many children will go to school hungry and as a result of that they will not learn."
All the children in Belize Rural benefit form the programme, while in Stann Creek, presently only schools in Dangriga Town get lunches. Officially, the target is to reduce the repetition rate by 50% in all districts with no increase in dropout rate.
The budget for this start-up phase is half a million dollars….