File picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Cape Town – The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has received a conditional grant of more than R400 million by the Treasury for the School Nutrition Programme, to help feed less fortunate learners so they can learn better and stay in school longer.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the programme provides two nutritious meals daily to more than 483 000 pupils at quintile one to three schools, as well as to around 80 000 pupils from quintile four and five schools that serve poorer communities.

“The school feeding scheme does not only provide more nutrition for our learners, but will encourage our learners to arrive early for school and stay in school. 

"It allows children to focus on their studies rather than their stomachs, and helps to increase school enrolment and attendance, decrease drop-out rates, and improve cognitive abilities,” Hammond said.

The nutritional value of the meals has increased since 2011, she said, with the inclusion of fresh fruit and vegetables, tinned fish and lentils.

“The department has designed the menus to ensure that children receive adequate nutrition that they need to learn and play. Menus are designed by dietitians to improve the general nutritional status of the children and consist of warm, cooked meals. 

"There are five different menus for each day of the week. The menus typically include rice, samp, soya mince, a protein, fruit, vegetables, bread, jam, peanut butter and cereals.”

The Peninsula School Feeding Association (PSFA), a local NGO, also addresses hunger at primary and high schools, as well as at Early Childhood Development Centres, TVET colleges and orphanages.

PSFA fundraising manager Charles Grey said they worked to have no child go to school hungry.

“PSFA’s main aims are to reduce short-term hunger, enhance children’s ability to learn through school feeding, and increase school attendance. 

"PSFA has to date provided over 1.7 billion nutritious meals to underprivileged schoolchildren, thus promoting a sound grounding for education, which is the key to everyone’s future.

“Hunger and malnutrition prevent disadvantaged children on our feeding programme from learning. This leads to a lifetime of damage and continuation of the cycle of poverty - for the child, our society and our nation.”

He said they currently provide food to 27 818 pupils at 170 educational institutions in the province.

“Over and above the ingredients supplied to each educational institution on our feeding programme, PSFA also provides gas stoves, gas bottles, gas when needed, pots, plates, eating spoons and cooking utensils. 

"PSFA empowers and trains members of the community, usually unemployed parents, to prepare and serve meals at each of the schools. PSFA provides each volunteers with a monthly stipend,” Grey said.

According to a report compiled by UCTs Children’s Institute, three out of every four children in South Africa are living in poverty, with around 30% of the country’s population experiencing food insecurity.

“All the schools on our feeding programme are not included in the Western Cape Education Department’s National Schools Nutrition Programme. 

"PSFA undertakes to secure funding to ensure that these schools will be supported by our feeding programme. PSFA believes that children should be given the opportunity to learn, grow, develop and achieve. 

"Children cannot do all this without a nutritional meal,” Grey said.

Cape Times