Kigezi Healthcare Foundation – Official Blog

KIHEFO promotes local initiated solutions to fight disease, ignorance and poverty in southwestern Uganda

Learning on Empty Stomachs – Primary Education & Malnutrition

It’s a long walk to Kamuronko Primary School for many of the school children living in the village of Maziba, Kabale, which is located in the southwestern region of Uganda. According to the school headmaster, Willy Kabagambe, some students walk six kilometers to reach school by 7 am every morning. Willy also reports that most students leave home without having eaten any food for breakfast, and without carrying any food to eat and sustain themselves throughout the school day.students_desk

Primary education is universal in Uganda, as the government promotes Universal Primary Education (UPE) in accordance with the Millennium Development Goals; however, the reality remains today that many Ugandan students are caught in a situation where there is scarce food at home, and no food at school, forcing them to learn on  empty stomachs. Today this has created immense challenges for educators at Kamuronko Primary School and other schools throughout the Kigezi region.

girl_student“It’s difficult to teach a child who has not eaten,” said a grade five teacher from Kyanamira Primary School, located in the village of Kyanamira.

Educators report that ‘student hunger’ is one of the main reasons why students are struggling to concentrate on lectures, work on assignments, and perform well on their examinations. Students have a ‘lunch break’ from 1 pm to 2 pm; however, there are no funds available for a school feeding program, and as a result, most students endure hunger and low-energy levels all day long. Some walk long distances back home to eat.

“You’ll find that many students pretend to go home for lunch, only when they arrive at their homes, there’s no food to eat,” said Frank Mwebesa, the School Headmaster at Kyanamira Primary School.

In the village of Maziba, school headmaster, Willy Kabagambe, says that students who go to school without food are more likely to drop-out early from primary school in order to seek employment as laborers, or bicycle and motorcycle taxi-drivers.

Root causes of ‘hungry students’

In the Kigezi region, where 90% of the population owns land, and even more people are involved in agriculture, it’s paradoxical that so many students should go to school without eating and remain hungry throughout the day.

Most households sell the food they grow for income; however, they are generating only a small purchasing power through their sales. In rural villages, many families are living on less than $1/day, and cannot afford to buy food, and other necessary household items. Many parents and caretakers are suffering from illness and disease, and lack the energy and health required to walk to their plots of land (some scattered far on hillsides) and plant and harvest enough food to feed their children.

Additionally – while education is promoted as “universal” in Uganda, it’s certainly not free. Parents pay ‘maintenance fees’ for their children to attend primary school, which contribute to facility repairs and investment in desks, chalkboards and other learning materials. These fees range between 10,000 to 25,000 Ugandan shillings/term – on average $50 per student/year. These fees do not include the cost of school uniforms, textbooks, notebooks, pens and pencils, and other tools children need to learn at school.

In order to pay for their child’s education, many parents are forced to sell the food they grow to the local market, which often generates barely enough to cover the costs, and leaves little food resources at home to feed the family. The average family in ruralteacher Kigezi has four to five children, and some families are caring for additional children who’ve lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. The burden on families to provide for their children’s education and send them to school everyday with lunch has become increasingly difficult, and impossible for many.

Even teachers, who have identified the problem associated with student learning and lack of food, are feeling hunger pangs at school. They, too, must send their own children to school and are facing the same reality of draining limited resources to cover school fees.

How is KIHEFO intervening in today’s situation?

KIHEFO recognizes that the situation of students going to school without eating breakfast or lunch is not only contributing to challenges in educating children, which is causing high drop-out rates; but also to malnutrition and poor health in the Kigezi region.

Today KIHEFO is partnering with schools, administrators and educators in rural villages throughout the Kigezi region to understand root causes of poverty and disease, identify need and solutions, and work together to deliver needed health and development services. These services offered, include – general health and nutrition screenings, HIV/AIDS testing, dental health, and public health education (hygiene and sanitation) to prevent illness and disease.

But the need for investment in education and nutrition and health services in the Kigezi region is overwhelming, and KIHEFO needs your support today.

Please visit our website to learn how you can support KIHEFO’s work to support primary schools in rural Kigezi, and empower those who need it the most – those students who are struggling to go to school everyday and excel in their studies…on empty stomachs.

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This entry was posted on February 25, 2013 by in Child Nutrition.
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