The intense summer heat does not seem to bother the 1,300 students in the afternoon shift at René Schick School, located in the capital district of the same name. Voices and laughter fill the classrooms where the children wait eagerly to receive their plate of rice, beans, tortillas and a bowl of fortified cereal.
Today there is a special guest- Norma Ortiz Jiménez, Director of the Integral School Nutrition Programme of the Ministry of Education. She is visiting the school to verify all is going well with the preparation of food for the children. This is also a chance for her to speak with the children and their teachers while they eat.
A Job with Great Rewards
For three years, Ortiz, 57 and mother of two, has been at the head of this government programme. In this time over 1 million children, enrolled in preschool, primary and public schools, have received nutritious meals.
“It is both a great honour and great challenge to lead one of the most important social protection programmes in Nicaragua. I am filled with satisfaction and pride over the achievements we have made in school lunch coverage and food safety education,” confides Ortiz while helping a third grade teacher hand out food.
Her dynamic personality has allowed her to perform all the tasks of coordinating the programme with people from all sectors, most men.
Norma Ortiz has extensive training in business administration and food nutrition security. She served as an independent consultant in social projects, and before assuming her current position, she was Chief Financial Officer of the Ministry of Education.
“The work is hard, but is contributes to the physical and intellectual development of the students, while also improving retention in school, making all efforts worth it,” says Ortiz.
Food Security is Everyone’s Responsibility
According to the director of the programme, this is an exemplary programme that promotes a model of shared responsibility where teachers, mothers and fathers, children and state institutions are directly involved in the nutrition of the students.
“Women play a fundamental role in family nutrition, but other family members are becoming increasingly involved in ensuring proper feeding of children at home and in the preparation of school meals,” she says.
One of the ambitious changes lead by Ortiz is the recruitment of women. There are techniques by PINE to monitor the implementation of the programme in urban and rural areas, as this was a job previously given to men due to moving to schools in rural areas with difficult access.
With the Hand of WFP
Ortiz highlights the importance of the help from the World Food Programme (WFP) to PINE, joining in on government efforts in Nicaragua so that children grow up healthy and well.
During 2013 and with the help of WFP, over 176,000 children will receive school lunches in Nueva Segovia, Jinotega, Matagalpa, Madriz and the Autonomous Region of the North Atlantic (RAAN). Moreover, since 2011, the WFP Logistics Unit has provided technical assistance to the Ministry of Education to ensure the transportation of food to schools across the country.
This year the government of Nicaragua designated 630 million Cordobas (more than USD25 million) for the purchase of 23,000 tonnes of food destined for children in public schools during the year.