Friends Marizete, 9, and Manuel, 11, walk a 6km round trip to school and back every day, along with 10 children from the same area.
“They are happy to do it because they know they will get a good meal and be able to learn,” says teacher Paula Matias, who has been at the school for 17 years.
The school also has access to a borehole and pump so parents know their children will have clean water to drink and will be able to wash their hands before their meal.
“The parents trust us,” Paula explains. “The food motivates the pupils, it keeps them coming here with will and passion.”
She says Marizete and Manuel are two of their strongest pupils, hardly ever missing a day of school despite the long distance they must travel.
“I love to come to school, I love to study,” says Marizete, the eldest of three. Her parents are farmers, but she would like to work as a nurse in a hospital when she grows up.
“I like to read and write, but I love mathematics most,” says Manuel, who would like to become a teacher one day.
Both children enjoy the food they get at school and for many of their schoolmates it is the main meal of the day.
“My body gets stronger, and I feel good,” says Manuel, who says the fortified rice gives him energy to walk back home and revise his work before going to play with his friends.
Paula has noticed that children from her school do not get as sick as those from other schools where there is no feeding programme , saying, “That rice is powerful,”.
Lourdes Ndona, 13, doesn’t have a toilet or clean water at home. Her family comes to the school to fetch clean water every day.
Before the school had water, they had to walk quite a distance to collect water. “It was often dirty”, she says pointing to a little boy carrying a bottle of beige-coloured water. “Like that, but we drank it because there was nothing else.”
Her family uses the bushes as a toilet and the schoolchildren had to do the same before new latrines were built there last year.
Snakes are not uncommon in this area, so it wasn’t surprising when she says “I am more comfortable coming here; I feel safer. All my friends and I kept saying ‘we love this’ when we saw them [the toilets].”
“The water well and the latrines changed everything for us,” says Paulino Ndulu, the community’s church leader.
“Before, the people had to go relieve themselves outside, not only the children but even the older people. There was a lot of diseases back then, now it is much better,” he says. “It is also a huge help to the teachers who are sent here from the cities. It allows them to stay.”
Lourdes says she has learnt the importance of cleanliness, handwashing and keeping the toilets clean and how to protect the garden from contamination. She’s also taught her parents about keeping clothes clean and washing vegetables before cooking. “If we don’t wash our hands or food before eating, we will become sick.
“We insist on good hygiene,” says Manuel Pedro, a government teacher who has been at the school for the past four years. “When children are healthy they will come to school every day and they will get a good meal too. This school is always full,” he says.
Januario and Sarah are school gardening champions. Together with their friends, they plant vegetable seedlings, keep them watered and weeded and help to harvest them for their school kitchen.
“We planted carrots, onions, tomatoes and peppers,” says Januario, who adds that they enjoy working in the garden with their friends.
“On our first harvest, we brought them up to the school. We had salad with our rice. It made it taste so much better! Your body gets bigger if you eat more of the vegetables; it brings health to you.” says Sarah.
ForAfrika’s agricultural supervisor Hermenegildo says the main aim of teaching vegetable gardening to the children and community is to improve the diversity of their diets.
“We teach agricultural techniques that introduce vegetables with better nutritional value into the diet. Most of the children and their families had never seen a carrot or tomato before. They always plant just maize or sorghum. This serves to reduce the number of malnourished children in our communities. We also want children to become interested in farming. It is a process.”
Headmaster Antonio Palanca says: “ Since we started with the garden project, the dropout levels have decreased; that is the main impact. The food became more nutritious and tastier, and the children have done very well. Vitamins are very important for children’s development, and it gives them strength to absorb the information. You need to be nourished to study properly.”
“For me, agriculture means development and empowerment,” states Antonio Kapeio, leader of a communal farming group.
Before joining the group, which started out at his children’s school, he concentrated on a few crops, but has now diversified to benefit from seasonal planting and harvesting.
Gardens at schools benefit a whole community. ForAfrika’s farming groups are made up of community members, school staff and pupils who are given “agricultural inputs” such as seeds, seedlings, watering cans and spades.
They are then taught techniques for planting, watering and harvesting as well as organic pest control.
Antonio says that being part of this group and getting training has “opened our minds to bigger farming and other planting”. The group started planting other vegetables such as carrots, tomatoes and onions, allowing them to sell more at the market and to have produce all year round.
Their investment has paid off and with the proceeds from sales of their surplus harvest, the group has decided to expand their garden.
“With the money we made, we hired cattle to plough and bought fuel for the irrigation pump — we must invest more because then we can get more crops and more money. It also means we will be able to assist more with the children’s meals and even notebooks.” says Antonio who also thinks it’s helpful for the children to learn about farming for their future.
Morgado Culembe says he grew up on ForAfrika’s ‘porridge’. As a child during Angola’s war, he and his family had to flee from their home in Bocoio to Lobito, where their father managed to find them a house. But food was often a problem.
His father was a civil servant, and, in wartime, his salary was not always guaranteed.
“Sometimes, there was not food at home, and I would have to miss school to help my mother sell things, like sugar, soap, rice and pasta at the market. I realise that it delayed my learning to read.”
“We often went to bed hungry,” Morgado says.
They eventually discovered ForAfrika serving food to the displaced at a nearby church.
“We got meals there three times a week, usually pap (maize) and beans, and then we started to get CSB (Corn, Soya Blend porridge) at school. My mother helped to cook it.”
“The quality of the food was a great incentive for us to go to school. When the truck came to bring the food, we were very happy and helped to unload it and arrange the bags in the school’s stockroom. We knew we would get food for the next few days.”
Eleven years later, a 23-year-old Morgado was back in his homeland of Bocoio and applied for a job — he was taken aback when he walked into the offices and realised it was the same organisation that had helped him all those years ago.
He fell in love with the work he was eomployed to do and even decided to further his studies. Today Morgado has a degree in human and social sciences with a specialty in pre-school education.
“As a child I had few opportunities, but as an adult I have witnessed certain programmes that give meaning to the education of children in school and beyond. ForAfrika now does more than just school feeding; there is also gardening and building water wells which benefit whole communities.
“For me, school meals are a great incentive. The school feeding helped me to stay in school and helped make me the person I am today. It is not just a meal, it transforms lives. An investment in school feeding can build families, communities and more. Education is the base of society.”