"How I Escaped Poverty And Hunger"

Published on 25 July 2013

Peter Mumo (left) as a young boy growing up in drought-prone eastern Kenya and (right) after graduating from university with an engineering degree. Peter says school meals provided to him by WFP were crucial to his success. Photo courtesy of Peter Mumo.

Despite growing up in abject poverty in a drought-prone region of eastern Kenya, 25-year-old Peter Mumo has managed to get an education, go to university and land a job with good prospects. He believes the meals he received from WFP in the 1990s played a critical role in his academic success.

1. How poor were you as a child?

Very poor. We were a family of 8, with too meagre an income to cover our basic needs. My father was a primary school teacher. This is one of the lowest paying jobs in Kenya. To make matters worse, he would spend half of his salary in the village liquor dens drinking local brew. We did not have enough food, nor sufficient water. We had no electricity, no good house, no clothing, no nothing- we struggled to live.

2. What did you eat?

We used to live on a single meal per day that consisted of a boiled mixture of maize and beans. Beans were scarce and expensive and so the number of beans in the mixture was extremely small. Most of the available beans would be reserved for the youngest of my brothers. My family suffered from malnutrition and we were all emaciated.

"I had to borrow my shoes"

When Peter was 13, he and a few other top students from his school were rewarded with a trip to Mombasa. He had to borrow a school uniform and some shoes from class mates. This photo was taken during this trip. He is standing on the left. Read Peter's story, in his own words.

3. What was the worst part of your childhood?

Our house was mud-walled and had a grass-thatched roof, which would leak terribly when the rains fell. The rains brought with them the Anopheles mosquitoes which transmitted malaria. I was the most vulnerable to malaria infections in my family. Much of the family income would be spent paying my hospital bills. I vividly remember once praying to God to take my soul while lying in the hospital bed.

4. What do you remember about school?

We would share one textbook among ten pupils, a desk among three or four. Others would sit on the floor. We had only a single teacher for all the subjects, and to make it even harder we studied on an empty stomach all day! During class breaks we would rush to the nearby baobab tree to see if there were any fruits to pick. We rarely found any since baobab trees are in season only once a year.
 

5. When did school meals arrive?

While I was in class 4 (age 9), the head teacher informed us that we were to benefit from a ‘school feeding’ programme to be spearheaded by WFP in collaboration with the government. All the pupils would get a cup of nutritious porridge for breakfast. They would also get 5 biscuits to take home in the evening. It was the best thing that could have happened to me and to all the pupils in my school. Our parents now had to worry less about where our next meal would come from.

6. How did the school meals help you?

They gave me energy and a reason to work hard and hope for the future. I’m sure the programme also helped build up my immune system and reduce the number of days I was absent from school for sickness. The school meals continued through to class 8. I maintained the top position in my class. This allowed me to attend one of the best secondary schools in Kenya. Then in 2007, I enrolled in Moi University’s Engineering School and graduated with an Honours degree in Chemical and Process Engineering in December 2012.

7. How are things going for you now?

Compared to where I have come from, it’s a different world. So much has changed. I am currently working as a product development manager with an Agrochemical and Fertilizer Development and Distribution company in Nairobi. I can today afford a balanced diet and eat whenever I feel like it. I am able to give back. I'm able to pay my bills and provide for all of my basic needs. No more poverty, my future looks very optimistic with new opportunities opening up gradually.

8. Do you think you can help fight hunger in your part of the world?

I hope so. I have carried out research projects in agriculture and environmental projects as well as food processing projects over the years. Currently I am investing some of my own money in greenhouse farming and I’d like to get production up to a level that could sustain a small processing plant. I take every opportunity to encourage youths to take up modern farming.  Investing in this area means not only jobs, but also food security.

 

(All photos courtesy of Peter Mumo)

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about the author

Martin Penner

Web Editor

Martin Penner, a former journalist, has worked for WFP since 2008.