Workers carry bags of maize at a World Food Program (WFP) warehouse in Yambio, South Sudan, on March 5, 2020. Photo Credit: Xinhua

Juba school rallies parents to begin hunger fight at home

[rt_dropcap_style dropcap_letter=”D” dropcap_content=”URING their latest monthly meeting, parents of Holy Family, a private primary school in South Sudanese capital Juba, had a rare topic on the agenda – nutrition.”]

The Parents and Teachers Association (PTA), Khamis Eluzai, used the better part of his speech explaining the importance of nutrition among learners, citing the findings of a Global Child Nutrition Foundation (GCNF) 2021 survey.

“Why do you send your children to school without anything to eat? Truth be told, a hungry child cannot learn or pass exams come end of term. It’s impossible,” Eluzai, who also heads a UN funded nutrition project with the Anglican Communion, said.

“Children who develop healthy habits at an early age are more likely to do well in school. You parents are the first source of that lesson to your children by feeding them the right food that builds their immunity and helps them perform well.” The school affiliated to the Holy Family Catholic Chapel has 600 pupils and involves parents in its policy and management decisions through monthly engagements.

Eluzai, the PTA chairman, says one of the major decisions they made recently was to make nutrition a priority in the school’s programmes. “I am well aware of the economic hardship in the country, but nutritious food like vegetables, whole grains and beans don’t cost a lot. Proper nutrition is crucial to consider when you care for kids, as it protects them against malnourishment, maintains a healthy immune system, prevents obesity and reduces the risk of chronic disease,” he said.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a healthy diet throughout life supports normal growth, development and ageing, leading to overall health and wellbeing. Save the Children says hunger forces more young people in South Sudan to drop out of school, putting girls at risk of early marriage and sexual exploitation, and forcing some boys into crime.

The UK charity supports hungeraffected households and livelihoods with cash transfers to promote positive nutrition practices, infant and young child feeding practices and distributes emergency food in South Sudan.

It says in its 2022 annual report that South Sudan is facing its worst ever hunger crisis since independence, with at least 7.2 million people or 65 percent of the population on the brink of starvation amid civil war, climate shocks and high food prices. Some 1.4 million children are expected to suffer from acute malnutrition this year, the highest figure since 2013.

According to the Save the Children report, South Sudan is one of the countries whose education system is at extreme risk of collapse, alongside the DRC, Nigeria, Somalia and Afghanistan.

The hunger crisis, says the report, has driven some boys to engaging in crime and violence while some girls were being sexually exploited. “The above scenario is what we are trying to avoid for our children.

When you see me yelling to my fellow parents, it is because I have seen school children in most of these government schools behave as in the above statement. My heart really bleeds for them but it is the situation of our country,” said Eluzai. If the political and economic situation in the country improves, the school will introduce a compulsory feeding programme.

“We will employ a full-time nutritionist to cater for the planning and I am confident that will save the parents a lot of burden,” Eluzai said. The World Food Programme (WFP) announced resumption of its school feeding project in governmentsupported schools.

But many parents are sceptical of the WFP school feeding project due to past inconsistencies and the expected increase in number of pupils in schools this year after the government announced a free primary education for all.

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