Sandzisile holds one of her charges in the school chicken shed (Copyright: WFP/David Orr)
In schools in rural Swaziland, vulnerable children, many of whom have lost a parent or parents to HIV/AIDS, learn useful life skills in addition to their regular lessons while WFP supplies their families with basic foodstuffs.
Sandzisile (9) says the chickens can be naughty but she and her schoolmates enjoy looking after them. They had 200 broilers in the shed behind the schoolhouse but 180 were sold, netting a neat little profit. This, along with the proceeds from the school vegetable garden, will be divided up amongst the pupils’ families at the end of the year. The activities serve a dual purpose - generating income and teaching the children basic farming skills.
Of the 450 or so students at Mafutseni Community Primary School, 50 are enrolled in the Children and Youth Development Programme (CYDP). Supported by WFP which provides food assistance to some 2,000 CYDP participants in 50 sites countrywide, the initiative is designed to boost the nutritional status of vulnerable older children in rural areas while encouraging them to build productive assets in the community.
“The food from WFP makes a real difference because a lot of these children get nothing to eat at home”, says teacher Zanele Groening. “Many of them don’t have parents so there’s no one to cultivate their land. The situation has been made worse by drought over the past few years”.
WFP provides monthly take-home rations of maize, yellow split peas and vegetable oil for the families of the children. Some have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS which infects about a quarter of the Swazi workforce – the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. Others, like Sandzisile, live at home with a single parent and various siblings and relatives.
“We work with the chickens and in the vegetable garden when we’ve finished our lessons”, explains Zakhele (16) who lives as the adopted son of one of the teachers, having been abandoned at a young age by his parents. “It’s a useful project to do at school…though I don’t really want to be a farmer. I’d like to be a doctor one day”.
Lessons and skills
Agriculture is the backbone of the Swazi economy with 70 per cent of the population dependent on it for an income. So it makes sense for the CYDP to concentrate on activities that are related to the land. Other schemes considered by the teachers at Mafutseni were bee-keeping and fish-farming.
Zakhele may one day work in the health sector. Sandzisile would like to become a nurse. But for many of the Mafutseni pupils, the hope is that the skills they learn alongside their lessons will enable them to make a living in the agricultural sector which has for so long sustained their families and community.