Empty bowls

I haven’t blogged in the last couple of few days because I didn’t have an internet connection. I also didn’t have any lights for a while and for a time I didn’t have a working toilet, electricity or water either so not having wifi wasn’t really a priority. What I did have though or should I say what we all had was a great big puncture.

In the last few days we have flown to Sunyani, driven to Wenchi then on to Wa and Tamale. This morning we flew back to Accra and wifi!

 In Wa we met up with our Christian Aid partner, SEND. The first thing that caught my attention in their office was a poster that said ‘you may not like your wife but you have no right to beat her up’.  I am sad to say I did laugh when I read it simply because it was so unexpected. It also reminded me of the type of message you used to see on those old fashioned cartoon postcards, typically found in seaside towns.  Then I saw another poster which said ‘do not beat up women accused of witchcraft. It could be your mother.’ 

I was struck by the simplicity of the messaging and brutality of the subject. I wasn’t actually visiting SEND to talk about any of these particular issues but it did bring home to me the fact that violence against women is everywhere in this world, regardless of economic climate. But in countries like Ghana there can be additional burdens to bear.

The team in SEND was brilliant, full of passion about their work. They took Heather, Neil and I to see a local primary school to watch the School Feeding Programme in action.

This was set up to encourage children to go to school and at the same time reduce hunger and malnutrition. It is a government scheme but our partner SEND has been monitoring the scheme, ensuring that it is implemented fairly and accountably. Before they started doing this they found that the scheme tended to be mostly implemented in regions that were less in need of it. Now it is being implemented in the 3 northern regions where 8 out of 10 people are living in poverty.  

It was the last day of term and all the children were lining up to get fed. The head teacher, Insah Habiba, explained that normally they start with the youngest class, feed them and then bring out the next class but today everyone was being fed at the same time. It was noisy and often quite violent as children shoved and whacked each other in the queue – this was probably their only meal of the day and no one wanted to lose their place. Today’s meal was a substantial bowl of rice with a spoonful or two of vegetable broth on top.

Insah explained that these children didn’t get anything to eat before they arrived at school – normally between 7 and 7.30. At that point the cook counted the number of children who were there (anything up to 700) and then cooked the exact amount needed, no such thing as throwing a bit extra in the pot. 

There was no kitchen, all the cooking was done outside in 2 massive pots, in the traditional way using charcoal. The children check that there’s food in the pots when they arrive, if there isn’t then they’ll not stay in school.  It is a very simple scheme, but like any scheme, the success is in the implementation. SEND monitors the effectiveness of it and ensures that the schools in the poorest regions, are able to participate in it.

Insah said that her numbers were continually increasing meaning that not only were more children being educated but they were also getting more nourishing food. The community was benefiting too as the food for the meIals was  all bought locally.

I know that many children at home would turn their nose up at the school dinner here but it was really obvious that these children loved it.  Every bowl was empty. These children are a tough bunch, they have already learnt the lesson that food is precious and getting good food is a priority.

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About rosamondbennett

CEO of Christian Aid Ireland, arts lover, avid reader and mother
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