Just under 100 principals from some of the country’s under-resourced primary schools are meeting this week to discuss the urgent need for learners to receive better nutrition. The link between healthy food and sharper brains is well established, yet every day millions of learners go to school on an empty stomach, says Eugene Absolom, Director of the Tiger Brands Foundation.
The Tiger Brands Foundation serves more than 63,500 free but highly nutritious breakfasts every morning at 91 schools across all nine provinces, with studies undertaken showing positive results from overall interventions including the nutrition programme, contributing to better educational outcomes, improved body mass index and a sharp decline in stunting caused by malnutrition.
This week the principals from most of the 91 schools involved in the nutrition programme are meeting in the second annual Tiger Brands Foundation conference to discuss ways of improving the nutrition programme, rolling it out more effectively and widely.
Other organisations involved in the nutrition programme are also speaking or exhibiting at the event, taking place from April 4-6 at Emperors Palace in Johannesburg, to highlight nutrition as a crucial way of giving the next generation a better start in life.
The theme of the conference is Hungry children cannot learn; healthy children change the world, and the agenda will tackle the broader role of nutrition in improving the lives of vulnerable communities.
“The conference aims to create more awareness around issues of health and how nutrition contributes to better educational outcomes,” says Abloom. ”Our programme isn’t looking for short-term gains, we want to transform this country, and if we really want to change the socio-economics circumstances of these vulnerable communities we have to intervene at a very early stage of the learners’ development.”
The principals themselves will speak about their experiences, successes and failures, and share best practices for delivering the nourishing breakfasts every day.
Other speakers include Dr Granville Whittle, deputy director general of Education Enrichment Services, Dr Faith Kumalo-Chief Director responsible for Care and Support in schools at the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and Dr Miriam Altman, Commissioner at the National Planning Commission, independent strategist and also trustee of the Tiger Brands Foundation.
Absolom says education is a major component of the nutrition programme, targeting the school principals, parents and food handlers. He says the school principals are empowered to manage the feeding programme, and are also coached in general people management skills.
The 310 food handlers who cook the breakfasts are paid a stipend and taught about safety in the kitchen and how to prepare food carefully to maintain the nutritional value. ”Because the Foundation has no control over what the children eat after school, it holds education sessions for parents and teachers to highlight the importance of a healthy diet,” adds Absolom.“The Foundation works in partnership with the Department of Basic Education and local communities and we see ourselves as the enabler to help people take responsibility for their own development,” says Sheila Sisulu, Chairperson of the Tiger Brands Foundation. “Our long-term objective is to see these communities uplift themselves by gaining important knowledge and skills and raising a healthy generation of children who are better equipped to realise their dreams.” In June, the Foundation will serve its 50-millionth meal. However, Absolom says the reality is that there are 8,8-million learners receiving a free school lunch, “so although we are doing great work we are barely scratching the surface”. Reiterating her support for the Private Public Partnership between the Department of Basic Education and the Tiger Brands Foundation, Minister Angie Motshekga says, “Through our strategic partnership with the Tiger Brands Foundation, DBE has been able to augment the in-school feeding programme since 2011. Our vision for 2030 as a country is that all children should enjoy services and benefits aimed at facilitating access to nutrition, healthcare, education, social care and safety.” During the conference, the Foundation will share its plans to form partnerships with more organisations and corporations to spread the school nutrition programme to hundreds of thousands of other schools in the poorest communities around the country.