Gladys Bomu, a Malawian mother, recounts the changes in her community since WFP began providing school meals there in 2008.
Every Thursday morning, Gladys Bomu walks to Makumba Lea Primary School in Zomba district from her village in southern Malawi. It is her village’s turn to prepare porridge for the students. Since 2008, Gladys has been cooking daily school meals with food from the UN World Food Programme.
The daily porridge made with fortified corn soya blend is not only nutritious – it also helps improve attention span and encourage regular attendance.
Gladys was one of many poor parents who would struggle each morning to feed her children before they went to school. She has two children attending Makumba Lea - Maureen in Standard 8 and Emmanuel in Standard 3. Knowing that a meal would help her children focus on their lessons and continue their studies, Gladys was eager to volunteer to cook school meals when WFP’s programme began there in 2008.
To promote community ownership, WFP directly engages community members to participate in running the programme. Schools organize management committees with staff and parents to ensure daily and timely preparation of the porridge on the school premises.
Gladys is a member of the School Feeding Committee at Makumba Lea, which collectively decides on which days the surrounding villages send volunteers to cook the porridge. Gladys knows community participation is crucial because school meals will impact the entire community for generations to come.
“Before school meals, young boys would think of any small activity they could do in the village to earn money or find food,” recalls Gladys. “Instead of going to school, they would say, ‘let’s go near the crop fields and catch mice and then we can make food’, but now they don’t do things like that—they come to school.”
Gladys has seen the direct impact of school meals on her own children with Emmanuel and Maureen now rushing to class each morning without worrying about their next meal. He wants to be a schoolteacher, she a nurse.
“This programme is really helping my children because they are working harder now that they come here and can eat porridge,” she says.
Since the programme began at Makumba Lea five years ago, overall enrollment and attendance levels improve every year. By 2012, the number of boys who graduated to secondary school had more than doubled and the number of girls had increased six-fold.
“Children now have a real interest in coming to school because they know they will eat,” Gladys says. “By the end of the day, they will also have learned something.”
Since the School Meals Programme began in Malawi in 1999, WFP has collaborated with the Ministry of Education to serve nearly 1 billion school meals. WFP currently reaches approximately 800,000 primary school students at 683 schools in 13 districts of the country.
Parents like Gladys are proud of their children who are continuing their studies thanks to the support from the WFP. A plate of porridge in Malawi offers more than just a chance to learn to read and write —it offers hope for a better future.