Tag Archives: Kenya

Bias toward food equity

photograph from What's for Lunch? by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

photograph from What’s for Lunch? by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of talking to Mary Ito at CBC’s weekend morning show, Fresh Air, about What’s for Lunch? I told her about the learning curve I’ve had in my first experience writing for children. I talked about how I’ve heard in the past that if you really want to figure out if you understand something, explain it to a child. I think it’s true—have you ever tried to explain lightning or why clouds exist to a kid? Most of us will come up against the limits of our own memory/knowledge when it comes to explaining even such simple things. I don’t think it’s about dumbing down—I believe kids are much smarter and more sophisticated than many adults think—it’s more about breaking ideas down to their constituent parts, unravelling the complexity. Sometimes, it’s also about questioning the bias that you take for granted.

The subject came up because Mary asked me if I found it challenging to negotiate bias when writing a book for children. She said that the food system is political and that there are many competing voices arguing this way and that. (Not to mention billions of dollars spent by food companies to support their own interests—my words, not hers.) How did I choose to take a particular stand?

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Molly’s story

Photograph by Yvonne Duivenvoorden

Researching What’s for Lunch? I talked to and read about lots of amazing people all over the world doing great things to improve kids’ access to healthy food. It was very inspiring.

But, for me, one of the most moving parts of my research was learning about Dadaab refugee camp on the border of Kenya and Somalia. There, hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing violence in their homeland are crammed into a space intended for 90,000. Many kids don’t even go to school because the facilities are crowded and inadequate and they have to share text books and desks. But the children who do attend receive a hot meal provided by the World Food Programme. It’s usually very simple: corn-soy porridge fortified with vitamins and minerals. It’s not served in pretty dishes or colourful trays, but for many of the kids it’s the best—and often only—meal they’ll have all day.

There, school lunch is more than a perk for busy parents or even a way to embed food literacy into the already robust curriculum, it’s life-sustaining.

For World Food Day—mark your calendars for October 16—the World Food Programme (WFP) has a new campaign to raise awareness and funds for its excellent work all over the world, including school meal programs that ensure nearly 26 million kids in 60 countries receive a healthy meal each day. All you have to do is watch the video (above), take a quick quiz and one meal will be provided to a child through the WFP. Continue reading

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In (some) stores now!

It’s always an exciting day when the postie brings a package, but receiving this box of the first copies of What’s for Lunch? was especially thrilling. It looks amazing, with Yvonne Duivenvoorden’s photos and Sophie Casson’s illustrations making the pages sing.

I’ll be promoting and launching the book in the fall for back to school but in the meantime, you can find it in certain stores now (also here) or you can preorder online from here or here and have it delivered to your door. (The book will be launched in the U.S. in November.)

Watch here for details about where I’ll be talking about lunch and what kids are saying.

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Filed under Kids and food, School feeding, School gardens, School kitchens, School lunch, What's for Lunch?

School lunch around the world

I’ve been blogging about school lunch for more than two years now, so I figure it’s about time for a look back at the countries and the lunches I’ve explored around the world.

I’ve written a lot about Canada and the U.S. (check out the tag cloud if you’re interested in reading some of it), but I’ve also stopped on almost every other continent. Of course, there’s more—much more—in my book, What’s for Lunch? Watch for news about the upcoming publication date! Here’s a taste of some of the places I’ve visited on the blog:

On getting girls into the classroom with school meals in AFGHANISTAN.

What’s for Lunch in Brazil?

School lunch at the vanguard of ending poverty and hunger in BRAZIL (plus more here).

Lunch at a unique green school in BALI, INDONESIA.

Taste education and school meals in FRANCE.

From FINLAND with love: how school lunch contributes to producing some of the smartest kids in the world.

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Famine in the Horn of Africa

Donate to WFP at http://www.wfp.org

I’ve written before about the school feeding program in the Dadaab Refugee Camp in Kenya, where some 300,000 people are crammed into an area intended for far, far less. Malnutrition, overcrowding, and problems with sanitation and access to potable water are common. The World Food Program provides a fortified corn-soy (CSB) porridge at the schools so kids can focus on their work (also as encouragement to attend, though only about 50% of kids in the camp go because the facilities are so inadequate).

Well, since I last wrote about it, things have been getting worse. Much worse. The most severe drought in 60 years is causing a food crisis and malnutrition. According to the WFP:

“The number of people in the Horn of Africa requiring food assistance… is expected to rise as high as 10 million in coming weeks…”

That’s an increase of about 4 million people needing help during this especially severe drought, made even more difficult because of conflict and high food prices. More and more hungry people are flooding into these camps (journalist Ben Brown calls it a “vision of hell”), and the WFP—which relies on individual donations—is looking at a serious funding shortfall.

I don’t think emergency food handouts (like fortified porridge or biscuits, or here at home food banks) are the answer to hunger in the long term, but right now thousands of children and their families could go hungry and die unless the world responds. Read more about what some are calling a famine in East Africa here and here. And please consider donating to the WFP.

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Behind the scenes: Dadaab refugee camp

One of the “countries” profiled in my upcoming book, What’s for Lunch? is not a country at all. The Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya (near the border with Somalia), however, are home to some 300,000 displaced people, mostly Somalis fleeing violence and lawlessness in their homeland. The vast, overcrowded, under-serviced complex may not be a country, but it is a world unto itself.

Built in the early 1990s to house less than a third of the current number of refugees, Dadaab (actually 3 separate camps) lacks pretty much everything, including adequate infrastructure (proper sanitation, water, etc.). Will Storr’s harrowing story in The Independent this summer called “No Way Out: Inside the Worlds’ Largest Refugee Camp” paints a vivid picture of what this means for hundreds of thousands of people on a daily basis.

For children–some of the most vulnerable people in the camps—life in Dadaab can be incredibly difficult. Education is a right but less than half of the kids attend school. For those who do, there is fortified corn-soy blend (CSB) porridge served in the cup at left. Provided by the World Food Program as part of its food for education program, this school meal is intended to increase enrollment and attendance.

In this segment of Behind the Scenes, my ongoing series about the making of the book What’s for Lunch, a WFP worker in Dadaab offers some insight into why, despite the meal, enrollment continues to hover around 50%. It is part of an email sent to me when I requested more information about the school experience. I have edited it for the sake of  brevity:

An average refugee school has an enrollment of 2,000 to 2,500. The physical structures are tin-walled classrooms that were constructed during the emergency phase [the 1990s]. The structures are in a dilapidated state and need urgent renovation. The area is arid and semi-arid region where temperatures range above 37 celsius. Learners & teachers endure high temperatures inside these classrooms. Due to space constraints, lower primary runs two shifts per day and overcrowded classrooms contribute to a high drop-out rate among students and a low completion rate. Classroom to pupil ratio is 1:103 students (whereas the UNHCR standard is 1:40). Book to pupil ratio is 1:7 and minimum standard is 1:1; desks pupil ratio is 1:6 and minimum standards is 1:3. If every child wanted to go to school, they could simply not be accommodated.

It’s important to note that the WFP’s school feeding program has increased enrollment— but the poor conditions and limited facilities mean that these efforts can only go so far.

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