August may traditionally be a school holiday in Kenya, but you wouldn’t know it from visiting the schools in the northern region of rural Turkana county.
In an area where a survey in May 2011 found 37 per cent of children to be malnourished, a Kenya Red Cross programme to feed children in schools is a roaring success. The Kenya Red Cross asked the Ministry of Education to leave the schools open during the August holiday so they could feed children more easily.
In Nakinomet village, around 70 primary school children are jumping, playing, shouting and singing. They’ve just eaten their nutritious corn/soy porridge, Unimix, for the day and are full of energy.
For many it will be the only meal they have all day.
Tremendous difference in six weeks
The food is giving the children energy to do the things they love. James Losiru, a quiet ten year old, says: “My favourite thing about school is playing football and playing with other children.”
James lives in the village with his two sisters. Red Cross volunteers who live in the community visit the school regularly to help feed the children and teach them about good hygiene, especially important since they scoop the porridge up with their fingers.
Francis Ngesike, a community volunteer for the Kenya Red Cross, explains: “We do peer education in the school and teach them about healthcare – when you wake up, you bathe; when you go to the latrine, you wash your hands.”
He pauses and looks at the children dancing, singing and clapping. “They were different some six weeks ago. I wish you could’ve seen.”
Feeding thousands of children
Flora Kyondo, a Kenya Red Cross relief officer, says: “We’re currently serving 275 schools in Turkana, feeding between 77-78,000 pupils. In some cases the parents send them to school early. Some of these kids have never been to school. I’ve been told that in previous droughts young children were sent out to herd animals, but now there are very few stray children because they’re in school getting food.”
At 37 per cent, the malnutrition level in North Turkana is more than double the World Health Organisation’s threshold for an emergency, which is 15 per cent. North Turkana has the highest malnutrition rate in Kenya.
The Kenya Red Cross, with support from partners like the British Red Cross, is working tirelessly to change that. Children under five are among the worst affected by Kenya’s food crisis, and feeding these children is one of the organisation’s priorities.
Donations to the British Red Cross’ East Africa Food Crisis Appeal have provided 65 metric tonnes of Unimix – a nutritious food supplement – for schools in Turkana.
For children like James, it’s making a life-changing difference. He says: “I like the Kenya Red Cross because they give us biscuits and they are teaching us how to improve our health.”
Read more about the East Africa Food Crisis Appeal