Kenyan Girl, 13, Leaves Fields, Returns To School

In Kenya, many children are facing a choice: go to school – or work to feed themselves and their families. WFP’s new school feeding programmes mean that some youngsters no longer need to miss out on an education in order to eat.

NAIROBI -- Chesi Musa used to earn money to buy food for herself and her sisters by hiring herself out to dig in other people’s fields. For around $1 a day, it’s back-breaking work – at any age. 

But Chesi is only 13 years old. She should have been in school instead of hard at work. “It’s very difficult to cultivate land, because the ground is hard and very dry,” she says. 

A meal a day

Now, though, she has an incentive to attend school every day. Since January, WFP has been feeding children in her school one meal a day. It is one of several new school feeding programmes in the Kwale and other areas near the Mombasa coast.

These are some of the poorest parts of Kenya. People who were already suffering the effects of 2008’s steep increases in the prices of basic food staples, had their crops destroyed by drought following the failure of the end-of-year rains.

Chesi is one of 1.4 million schoolchildren in Kenya that WFP aims to feed in 2009. Many of their stories are similar to hers. Chesi lives with her aunt, who tries to support her extended family by selling alcohol made from coconuts. There is never enough money. Across the region, children are being pulled out of school to go and work to help pay for the one meal a day that most people in these areas now eat. 

Girls enrol in school

WFP’s school feeding programmes encourage parents to send their children, especially girls, to school. In the first week of the school feeding programme at Chesi’s school, Mteza Primary, 20 new students enrolled. 

Chesi’s lunchtime meal of maize and beans, mixed with oil and salt, provides her with all the nutritional requirements she needs to grow. And school feeding has also been shown to improve academic performance. “It helps me concentrate in class, which is something I had difficulty doing before,” she says.