Jackie Perkins, QSA Administrator
The right to education is a fundamental one for children, yet for many of the schools in areas where QSA works, circumstances prevent the children from getting the most from their studies because they simply are too hungry or sleepy from walking great distances to get to school.
QSA has a long and established relationship with St Jude Family Services, a dynamic and influential training centre in integrated organic agriculture that works with the most vulnerable of community groups in rural communities in South Western Uganda. At its core is work to build healthy, peaceful resilient and thriving communities. The work they undertake in schools is the start of a journey it is hoped many of the students will continue on throughout their lives incorporating a respect for and awareness of the environment and imparting key skills so they can realise their basic human rights.
In 2009 St Jude Family Projects started to work in local schools after they realised that the schools held little regard for agriculture as a necessity or a potential career, despite the food insecurity being faced by many students and teachers. The two-year program to increase knowledge and awareness of agricultural practices through the development of school gardens has also provided some food supplements to the school meals. It has proven to be an effective model with its impact spreading beyond the school yard and into the broader community. Students have become teachers sharing their new skills and knowledge with their families, while the schools themselves have become informal demonstration sites that community members visit to learn new ideas. St Jude has continued to support ten new schools each year since then.
Kitamba Primary School first received assistance from St Jude Family Projects, funded by QSA, in 2011-2012. It is a Primary School of 368 students aged between 5 and 11 years, located on top of a plateau with very dry, rocky and sandy soil conditions without any available water except what is collected from rain as roof run-off. Many of the students walk long distances to get there, and commonly have not had any breakfast due to poverty; the school principal has said that many students live with the grandparents or with single parents who struggle to provide a meal for their children to bring to school with them. In late 2012 when QSA first visited Kitamba School the teachers explained that it was not uncommon for students to be asleep under the trees due to hunger and tiredness in the afternoon, or to be absent. While the gardens
were developing, it was clear that a meal program for all the students was needed, to increase attendance and performance as well as improving their nutritional intake and health. An initial nutritional study carried out in July 2013 revealed that 43% of the students had neither sufficient nor nutritious meals at home, while 72% confirmed that they had consumed non-pre-boiled water at home. Significant signs of kwashiorkor and poor hygiene were visible. QSA agreed to support a meal program which increased the number of meals at the school. The meal program allocated twice-daily porridge to the two youngest years, while the rest of the students had porridge at lunch. Each student received half a litre of pre-boiled water a day, with fruits and vegetables provided once a week.
The gardens at Kitamba have taken longer to establish and sustain than planned, due to the time required to improve the quality of the soil, and the impact of an extended dry season. The sharing of harvest from the gardens has led to an increased appreciation in the value of agriculture while the gardens have become demonstration sites for the families of the students, with parents beginning to replicate the practices being demonstrated in the school. It is clear that small scale organic agricultural methods have become part of the daily lives of the children as has environmental awareness.
QSA has recently received a letter from the Headmaster of Kitamba Primary School and this is shared below.
Dear Quaker Service Australia,
Warm greetings from this end. I appreciate whatever you are doing for the world and more especially for our school. We ended the year well and now we are back to school for the year 2014.
At this juncture, I wish to express my appreciation and gratitude to you for the contribution in terms of lunch for our school. Indeed we are very grateful. Because of your contribution, the school achieved the following:
- Pupils absenteeism reduced
- Drop out of pupils due to hunger also reduced
- Pupils stopped leaving school before time for departure for home
- Gradual improvement in academic performance was noticed in all classes
With your continuous support I assure you our academic performance in all classes will continue to improve.
Much as we are striving to promote academic performance and agricultural activities in the school we have challenges like having inadequate funds to buy agricultural tools, to buy manure to improve the rocky soil, to buy instructional materials e.g. reference text books.
I wish you a prosperous year in 2014
Matoun F. X
Headmaster, St Michaels Kitamba Primary School
This situation is not restricted to Uganda however. Pitchandikulam Bio Resource Centre in Tamil Nadu also has noted the impact of insufficient nutrition on the students attending Nadukuppam School. A supplementary food program has been running for a few years now, providing a twice-daily nutritious drink to pupils who have recorded low iron levels, and a poor height and weight for their age. Regular monitoring ensures that the supplement reaches those most in need, and it too has enhanced academic performance along with removing anti-social behaviour in the students. The supplement, made from locally grown ingredients, is also being given to a small number of isolated elderly residents who have no family support.
In Cambodia access to education is being made more difficult, not by the issues mentioned, but more to do with payments to teachers. Education is made freely available to every child in Cambodia by the government, but according to the information received by QSA, this education provided is very basic. If students want to progress, achieve better examination results and opportunities for scholarships, they need to pay the teacher for the extra classes each day. An amount of US$0.50 – US$1 per day per child gives opportunities for extra tuition and guarantees a pass in the examinations. This situation greatly exacerbates difficulties already being experienced by children growing up in poverty. In an attempt to address this, one school involved with a QSA project partner has established, through its Peace Club, for the older or more gifted students to tutor and mentor younger and less educated students without payment – an excellent initiative from the students themselves to bring about a change to the system.
QSA is a member of the Australian Council for International Development, and is a signatory to the ACFID Code of Conduct. The Purpose of QSA is to express in a practical way the concern of Australian Quakers for the building of a more peaceful, equitable, just and compassionate world. To this end QSA works with communities in need to improve their quality of life with projects which are culturally sensitive, as well as being economically and environmentally appropriate and sustainable.