Two Women Behind the Scenes of School Meals in São Tomé
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Published on 19 April 2012

 School cook Josepha Carvalho outside the kitchen at the de Souza school. WFP / Isabel Pike 

Josepha Carvalho and Nilza Viegas are examples of people on the ground who make sure that school children receive their school meals day after day. 

SÃO TOMÉ – Josepha Carvalho and Nilza Viegas have known each other for ten years. Josepha is a cook at the Jorge Batista de Souza school and Nilza, as part of the parent association, comes to inspect the school meals every day. 

 
Josepha Carvalho, school cook
 
Twelve years ago, Josepha Carvalho, 41, heard an announcement on the radio from the Ministry of Education calling for school cooks. 
 
“I went to the WFP warehouse, signed up and I have been a cook at this school ever since,” she said. 
 
She is one of three cooks at the school - their salaries are paid by the government  and all of them have children who are either currently enrolled or used to go to the school. 
 
The meals are variations on a theme: one-pot meals of rice or maize with bean and vegetable stews. Sometimes the meals include meat and dried fish. “But not much because of the cost,” she adds.  
 
When asked whether the menu is written anywhere, Josepha tapped her head and said, “It’s all in here.” 
 
Josepha cooks two meals a day, one for the morning section of children served at 9:30 AM and another meal at 2:30 PM for the afternoon section. In addition to being a good cook with lots of stamina, Josepha knows about the food she is cooking. In 2009, she participated in a WFP nutrition training for school cooks.
 
“For example, this contains lots of iron,” said Josepha, holding up some leaves of the local leafy green maqueque. 
 
Do the children have a favourite meal? Josepha laughed. “Todos! Everything!” she said.  
 
Nilza Viegas, Parent Association member
 
Nilza Viegas, 36, who grew up eating WFP school meals, has been a member of the Jorge Batista de Souza parent association for the past ten years. She comes to the school before and after work to check on the morning and afternoon meals. 
 
“First thing, I check whether everything is clean. I then look in the pots and even taste the food,” she said as she walked around the dining hall and the kitchen. 
 
“Normally I stay for about half an hour,” said Nilza, who has four children, the youngest of whom, a 7-year-old boy, goes to the school.  
 
“Sometimes she stays for an hour!” laughed Josepha from across the kitchen.  
 
Nilza's children eat a full meal on top of the school meal but not all children, she said, are so lucky: “In the evenings, for some children, mum and dad might find something small for them to eat so they can go to sleep but they don’t get much more than that.”
 
And according to Nilza, the food security situation is getting worse in São Tomé, largely due to land pressure. “Families don’t have much land to grow food on anymore,” she said.
 
Nilza’s job is voluntary. “I love the children,” she said. “If they feel good, I feel good.” 
 
Even though her job is to make sure that everything is running smoothly, Nilza is clearly beloved by the cooks and the teachers. 
 
“She gives us morale,” said Josepha.