Making a difference at Kenyan schools: celebrating ten years of The Village Feast

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    Sarah Muthee, Mireyne MacMillan (from the nutrition team) and Julia Kenny (visiting from the vet team!) chopping vegetables for “super githeri”. Sarah visited schools in the summer of 2016, so she was a great support as we learned how to do the school meal assessments.


by Michaela Rowan and Grace Wanjohi

Now that we’ve been in Naari, Kenya for over two months, we want to tell you about the nutrition team’s work with 9 schools in our area.

We visit every school twice within a two week period. During the first visit, the first stop is usually at the office of the head teacher or principal of the school. Here, we request permission to assess the school meals. We also explain how the meals will be assessed for their nutrient content. Finally, we agree on a date for a second visit to report on our assessment and conduct a parent’s seminar, which is a session of teaching nutrition messages to the parents.

The next stop is the cookhouse, or kitchen, where meals are prepared for the children. These meals include uji (maize porridge), which is often served to the nursery children only, and githeri (a stew made with maize, beans and sometimes vegetables) which is served for lunch to all students.  After we see how the meals are being made, which ingredients are being used and what amounts are used, and measure the serving sizes the children are getting, our team will evaluate the nutritional content of the mal and compare it to nutrient requirements for the male and female students in the various age groups and write a report to give back to the school.

During our second visit to the school, we go over the feedback in the report with the head teacher and administration of the school. We discuss recommendations to improve their school meals, such as soaking the maize and beans, using whole grain maize and using a 1:1 ratio for the maize and beans in the githeri. We have not analyzed all the data yet, but we notice that the schools which have their own gardens and have been using drip irrigation really show a difference in the nutritional value of the lunches. With the gardens and drips, the schools are able to provide green and orange vegetables (like kale, carrots and orange sweet potatoes) more often, which provides nutrients like  β-carotene (the plant form of vitamin A) and vitamin C that are otherwise missing from the children’s diets.  Supplying a good source of these nutrients is very important since both are very important in growth and in helping children to resist infection.

nutrition 6We also take the opportunity to talk to the parents of the school children. This year, for the first time, we held nutrition education seminars for the parents after we meet with the head teacher and administration.  We discuss several nutritional messages in a seminar while providing a food sample of “super” githeri with whole grain (mpempe) maize, extra beans for protein, one orange and one green vegetable and more vegetables overall.  The food is very popular and shows them that preparing githeri the nutritious way tastes delicious..

Sample portion of super githeri prepared for parents in Michogomone Secondary School. This one has carrots- we are hoping to see more vitamin A rich orange fleshed sweet potatoes as an increased number of schools are growing them.

nutrition 2nutrition 3Measuring the typical serving of githeri: we do this so that we can estimate the amount of nutrients in a typical child’s serving.

The nutrition education seminars with the parents have been a very positive experience. When discussing the nutritional messages with the parents, I can see their eagerness to learn on their faces. Usually, after each message, we get plenty of questions regarding what we are discussing and typical Kenyan cooking methods which can make for a good discussion.  I always look forward to the school seminars. I think it is an effective way to talk to the parents/community about important nutrition messages since we can reach over 100 parents at one time!  The attendance is amazing and it shows their interest in being educated about feeding their children. Also, since the parents provide most of the foods for the schools, it is great being able to meet and discuss directly with them the best methods and foods to provide for optimal nutrition for their children.

nutrition 4During a seminar with the parents with Stephen Mwenda from Farmers Helping Farmers.  Note the huge pot of ‘super githeri’ for sampling!

Unfortunately, some of the schools we have visited have been having difficulty providing maize and beans to the children. There have not been enough rains this season, so there have not been good harvests. This also increases the price of maize and beans if they are available for purchase (this year there is a national maize shortage). Parents provide these foods to the school for their children, and in the case of some schools, they have run out of beans and are only serving maize to the children. Some will soon run out of maize. The schools that have gardens, water tanks and drip irrigation provided through Farmers Helping Farmers can provide green and orange vegetables which improve the school lunches nutritionally, but the maize and beans are still an issue when there aren’t enough rains.  This is so important since beans are the main source of protein for the growing children and their families and this may be their only meal of the day.    While Colleen Walton from Farmers Helping Farmers was here, she was able to alert local government officials about the food shortages;  we hope that the schools in Naari will be able to get enough food to last until the next harvest.

It has been  amazing to see the new school cookhouses from Farmers Helping Farmers sponsored by the Souris Village Feast. The schools which currently have traditional cookhouses are almost unbearable to remain inside while the food is cooking due to the amount of smoke. At one school, I (Michaela) tried to stay in for several minutes to help cook the githeri but my eyes were watering and it was difficult to breathe! The cook stayed inside the whole time without any complaints, but we know that the smoke is bad for their health, and the cookhouses require a lot of wood for fuel compared to the new cookhouses which have energy efficient stoves.

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A typical school cookhouse.

nutrition 7Michaka Primary School’s beautiful new cookhouse sponsored by the Souris Village Feast.

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Lunch cooking in one of the traditional cookhouses

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Lunch cooking in the large modern cookers in the cookhouses built by FHF and the Village Feast

The warm reception of the kitchen staff and the fact that they work in these conditions day in, day out makes us appreciate and really commend these heroic women and men for their great service to the Kenyan students.  This year, there are four newly twinned schools with FHF, and after seeing the work that has already been done, it is a great feeling knowing that more schools will benefit from working with Farmers Helping Farmers and the generosity of the Souris Village Feast.  I understand the Village Feast is coming up soon (Sunday July 16) I know now just how important it is to support this event so that more schools will have cookhouses!

All in all, we’ve really enjoyed visiting the schools! The teachers and staff are welcoming each time and the children have amazing energy and are always excited to have visitors. During the days that we assess the school meals, there is usually some time during break to play with the children. This is one of my favorite parts since the children are full of excitement and have lots of ideas for games. One of the things we enjoy doing is to sing songs we are familiar with and learn some of their familiar Kenyan songs (and dances).  Working with the schools in Naari has truly  been a very rewarding experience.

nutrition 11Mireyne playing a game with the children



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