Matagalpa. It’s nearly 10:00 a.m. and 64 students in San Roque School, located in the mountains of the Matagalpa region of northern Nicaragua, become unsettled.
Although they still don’t know exactly what time it is, their stomachs tell them it’s time for a meal- a plate of rice, beans, tortilla and fortified cereal, freshly made by mothers volunteering in the kitchen of the small school.
These 64 students of San Roque are part of the 176,000 preschool and primary school children to which the World Food Programme offers a hot meal through the Ministry of Education’s National School Feeding Programme.
“It is a great help to us and our parents. I like the food a lot and I feel that it gives me more wisdom for class,” says Heydi Mendoza, a 13-year-old pupil in sixth grade, while lining up for her snack.
Marcela Mayorga, who leads the WFP School Feeding Project, states that the food provides the children with 540 calories per day, a value that represents between 30% and 36% of their daily caloric requirement. The meal has also contributed to an increase in enrolment and retention rate of children in school. Furthermore, it provides additional motivation for students to attend class and leads to an improved level of concentration in their studies.
“Our experience shows us that the pupils are much healthier and much happier. It even promotes a better relationship between the teachers and the parents most involved in the education of their children and most supportive of the programme”, points out Liz María Úbeda, a field monitor from WFP’s office in Matagalpa.
Students with more energy
First and second grade teacher, Johana Jirón, is a witness to how her 25 students that come from families with scarce resources arrive on time to class, motivated by the snack. In their houses, they don’t always get a complete breakfast.
“Many students only have a “boyo” (a small piece of bread) and coffee at home, and that doesn’t sustain them. As a result, when it’s 10:00 in the morning, they lean out of the classroom windows, asking ‘Is the food ready yet?’ They even jump with joy,” says Jirón.
In 2009, through the contributions of the Dutch logistics company TNT, WFP was able to build two classrooms and a kitchen/storeroom for San Roque, as well as purchase kitchen utensils and cutlery. This substantially improved the conditions in which the students have their classes and where the mothers store and prepare food. Before the construction, the children had classes in two neighboring houses that didn’t provide adequate conditions. The smallest children didn’t go to preschool, and the older students had to walk an hour to attend the closest formal school.
“Since constructing the school, with both a meal and the motivation of the teachers, more children now come to class. “They are happy to come and study,” assures Francisca López Ramírez, one of the mothers who used to lend one of the rooms of her small house for classes.