Breakfast remains the most important meal of the day. In a nation constantly plagued by lifestyle related illnesses such as obesity, heart disease, malnutrition and diabetes; the importance of proper nutrition can no longer be ignored.
Children capture the most information during their school years. These are their formative years, and what is formed here goes on to create the grown up.
However, children in vulnerable areas often struggle to concentrate in class due to hunger and fear of food insecurity. Nutrition and a grasp on its importance during these years is a great stepping stone for health and a brighter future.
The Tiger Brands Foundation (TBF), through it’s nutrition drive; the in-school breakfast programme, has been serving hot meals at 92 beneficiary schools across the country since 2011 in partnership with the Department of Basic Education (DBE). This complements the department’s National School Nutrition Programme. These meals are prepared at school and served to learners in their classrooms before the start of the school day.
Our vision from the onset was to find a solution to the issue of poor nutrition and its impact on South Africans. The Foundation believes helping to tackle this issue has a positive ripple effect on health, education and the economy in the long-run.
The practical intervention, by means of a healthy and nutritious hot breakfast every school day makes learning enjoyable and impactful for learners who would otherwise be sent to school without any food. A child who can concentrate on learning and not on their hungry stomach has the power to stop the cycle of poverty through education.
Today the programme feeds 64 080 plus learners daily. It does not only put an end to a succession of malnutrition but it also delivers life changing educational tools to schools, learners and parents.
In an effort to involve the family unit in nutritional education, once a year the Foundation takes the programme out of the school and into the home by distributing food hampers to families in various communities during school holidays.
“Many learners come back from the long holidays malnourished because of food insecurity in their community, so we provide food hampers that cover the most basic nutritional needs of a family of four to six people for two or three weeks,” says the Foundation’s executive director Eugene Absolom.
Absolom says the programme is continuing to change people’s lives across the nine provinces. “It has provided jobs for people in various communities; it has opened dialogue in schools, families and amongst learners around the importance of good nutrition; and most importantly it has transformed schools into dynamic and vibrant places of learning,” says Absolom adding that this creates safe learning atmospheres for the children.
The programme is bigger than the delivery of food to the learner, thus far it has built 33 school kitchens and repaired others in order for these meals to be prepared in a more hygienic environment. Five more kitchens are currently under construction. It also assists in the employment of over 360 food handlers at the schools.
Absolom says that the DBE-employed food handlers are parents from schools surrounding communities and their tasks include preparation, cooking and serving breakfast daily.
“In keeping with our education, the food handlers are provided with denim aprons and mop hats and they receive training in food storage, hygiene and preparation,” he says.
“We have also developed a risk management and quality framework that enables quality food products to move from the point of manufacture, to school kitchens, and ultimately into the stomachs of learners’, with minimal risk of non-delivery or food contamination.”
Independent studies done in collaboration with the University of Johannesburg have indicated that absenteesim in schools where the programme is active, has dropped. This has led to improved educational outcomes.
Law enforcement agencies have also reported that there is a drop in petty crimes in the areas where the programme has been implemented because learners are in school instead of roaming the streets, says Absolom.
Having identified nutrition as a major change agent for society Absolom says the programme’s vision has the learner at its centre.
“Ultimately, we would like to see every child receive breakfast so that their future is not compromised by lack of proper nutrition. We would like to see the complete eradication of stunting, obesity and other health challenges that are a result of poor nutrition. We would also like to see young learners perform well in school and where nutrition plays a role in improving educational outcomes.”
However, he says this needs other organisations to come to the party as TBF on its own cannot fulfill the needs of the entire nation.