28 schools are located in the Chris Hani District (Emalahleni Municipality) between Lady Frere and Queenstown in the Eastern Cape. The Foundation implemented the in-school breakfast feeding programme at these schools in January 2013. It is an utterly isolated and remote area; the rolling hills and wide open spaces are home to scattered communities living in very basic structures and livestock dots the landscape. There is such natural beauty here and it’s difficult to imagine a life of hardship surrounded by the mountains and quiet stillness.
The schools here are very small as they cater to the communities so widely spread in the region with almost 90% of the communities surviving on social grants and very basic subsistence farming. Employment can only be found in Queenstown or further. The main road linking Lady Frere to Queenstown is the only tarred road and access to the schools is on dirt roads – almost entirely inaccessible after heavy rains.
The selection of schools was complex owing to the logistics involved in delivery and many of the schools are located some distance from the main road – standard delivery vehicles cannot be used on the dirt roads which become impassable in the rainy season. Food supplies and cleaning materials are then transferred into smaller vehicles to affect delivery.
Spending time with the principals and observing the feeding programme highlighted some of the challenges the schools face collectively. It is a source of information that provides a greater understanding of each province where the Foundation operates and that the implementation of a feeding programme stretches beyond the serving of a meal.
For the Lady Frere cluster of schools, the following encapsulates their combined difficulties;
- Fundraising for school maintenance or repairs is impractical with the high level of poverty in the region;
- The majority of learners live with grandmothers or relatives living off social grants as parents have moved to other provinces in search of job opportunities;
- The schools are very isolated making the collection and delivery of essential supplies inconsistent and problematic;
- Weather extremes also impacts on the schools as learners are often unable to get to school as the paths taken to school become dangerous ie; flooding or heavy snowfalls;
- Holidays pose a great threat to the learners – many depend entirely on the breakfast and the NSNP lunch served at school as there is little food available at home;
- The level of drop-out after Grade 9 has increased owing to the vast distances between a learner’s primary school and the nearest high school. The cost of transport or alternative accommodation is inhibitive.
Notwithstanding their difficult circumstances, this group of schools shared their achievements and their commitment to creating a beneficial learning environment was encouraging. The combination of the Foundation breakfast with the Department of Basic Education’s lunch has provided the schools with a platform to develop stronger relationships with the learners and their families –
- Learners are more active – more focussed and energetic in their lessons and participating in sport;
- Educators report a marked improvement in their interaction with learners;
- Overall the general health and well-being of learners has improved especially for those on chronic medication;
- The addition of the breakfast programme has freed up limited funds to undertake school maintenance. The school governing bodies take on the labour to share this responsibility of the school’s infrastructure;
- Several schools have started vegetable gardens with learners happy to be involved in the planting, care and harvesting of the vegetables. Some schools even producing enough to sell in neighbouring areas creating a small source of income;
- The feeding programme is managed effectively by the educators who appreciate the value to their learners and surrounding communities;
- One of the schools have entrusted this responsibility to the Grade 9 pupils under the supervision of the educator on duty. The boys have welcomed the opportunity and take their duty seriously as they usher younger learners into classrooms to be ready on time. It has given the young boys a sense of responsibility and pride. (It must be noted the boys are better than the girls!);
- Parental/community involvement and support has also increased in gratitude for the invaluable feeding programme.
Our in-school breakfast programme in partnership with the Department of Basic Education shows ongoing benefit to the schools, learners, educators and community. The evident dedication of all our stakeholders in capitalising on successful implementation is deeply rewarding.