Windhoek — The World Food Programme (WFP) country director, Bai Mankay Sankoh, has urged schools and educators to introduce public awareness programmes to address the perception and stigma currently associated with the government's school feeding programme.
Some children and parents still believe that the meal offered under the programme is only for poor children.
The school feeding scheme was introduced by the World Food Programme (WFP) in 1992, after which it handed it to the country's education ministry in 1996.
According to statistics provided by the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture, the government currently feeds 365,854 pre-primary and primary school learners throughout the country with a nutritious mid-morning maize blend.
Education, Arts and Culture Minister Katrina Hanse-Himarwa confirmed that for some learners it is their main meal of the day. She said this when addressing the national stakeholders public-private partnership strategic meeting on the school feeding programme held in Windhoek a month ago.
Sankoh spoke to this journalist ahead of the WFP media training on food and nutrition that was recently held Windhoek.
Sankoh highly praised the Namibian government for being one of the few countries in Southern Africa that has transitioned its school feeding programme from being reliant on external funding to a sustainable model that is fully funded and managed by the government.
He pointed out that stigma and wrong perceptions are attached to the progamme, which if not addressed might be a barrier to the government's efforts to attain poverty and hunger eradication, especially at school level.
"Providing a meal at school is a simple but concrete way to give poor children a chance to learn and thrive. The daily meals given at the school motivate parents to enrol their children and encourage students to remain there. The benefits are also felt by poor households that are now relieved of having to scratch [around] for food," stated Sankoh.
However, he was of the view there are still thousands of school-going children that desist from receiving the meal, because they don't want to be labelled as poor and as result some will stop attending class or drop out of school because of hunger.
"The school feeding programme scheme is meant for all children regardless of race and family background and is not necessarily for children from a poor background. Therefore, it is up to the schools and educators to create a conducive hygienic environment that will attract all the children to join the meal provided mostly in the form of porridge," said the WFP country director.
Sankoh also pointed out the need for additional infrastructure such as kitchens, storage facilities, eating shelters, cooking and eating utensils, sanitation facilities, water in some schools and a diversity in the food eaten by learners, which need to be addressed.
He called on the private sector to complement the school feeding programme.