School meals just got better in The Gambia

Through the assistance of the European Union, WFP is promoting a pilot cash-based transfer in 24 schools across the Gambia through the Community and caterer cash transfer models to improve community participation and ownership. Food Management Committees who initially had challenges diversifying school meals are now providing children with more choices using locally available cereals, fruits and vegetables.Through the assistance of the European Union, WFP is promoting a pilot cash-based transfer in 24 schools across the Gambia through the Community and caterer cash transfer models to improve community participation and ownership. Food Management Committees who initially had challenges diversifying school meals are now providing children with more choices using locally available cereals, fruits and vegetables.

At Muhammed Lower Basic School, South of the capital city, WFP in partnership with the Government of the Gambia is implementing School Meals using a pilot Community Cash-Based Transfer model. This model provides funds directly to the school and is managed by key community members who are also part of the Food Management Committee. 

“We use the money to buy rice, coos/maize, beans, oil and lots of vegetables depending on the menu of the day. With the cash we receive, we are empowered with choices to vary the food we provide for the children,” said Alagie Cham, Head Teacher at Muhammedan for the past 27 years.

The caterer model on the other hand, hires a qualified individual who takes responsibility for the procurement, preparation and provision of daily meals to the school children.

Community involvement is key to success

The pilot, which started at the beginning of the 2016 school year is an inclusive programme that encourages greater community participation in the school meals by transferring management including procurement of commodities to the communities - a step towards strengthening national ownership. At Janack Lower Basic School for instance, the treasurer and head of the Mothers’ club supports the head of the school in managing the funds sent to the school and leads the daily procurement of fresh vegetables.

“I am very grateful to the WFP for giving us the opportunity to lead and learn more about school meals. It also makes it easier for us to mobilize a lot of support from the community ranging from the supply of firewood to pumpkin and sweet potato which the children love,” said Jow excitedly.

“Mondays are my favourite. We get ‘benachin’ with fresh fish and it’s beautiful”, said 12 year old Mariama.

Better food, higher enrolment

Janack has seen a high increase in its attendance this term compared to previous years. With this innovative way of providing school meals, the taste is closer to home but much more diverse especially with the possibility given to the schools and communities to explore different options using locally available foods.

“The benefits we get from this programme are many but one of the most important is attendance,” said Halimatou Jallow, a teacher and store keeper.

“The quality of food that is provided in school is different from what the children are used to at home and this has translated to more attendance even for a half day,” she continued.

Future prospects for Cash transfers in schools

WFP’s cash transfers activities in schools is in line with the sustainability plans to strengthen both national and regional capacities in the management of school meals. It is not only an opportunity to transfer skills and expertise required but also to increase community ownership for programme sustainability.

“We are happy to have received training from WFP and this new approach overall,” said Head Teacher. “This knowledge and involvement has transformed the community’s perspective and attitude towards school meals. Now we have different sections of Janack responsible for different issues such as fresh foods, cereals, accounting and handwashing, etc, unlike before when we left it all with WFP and the government” he added.

Written by Isatou Njai