LUSAKA, Oct. 14 (Xinhua) -- For some children, attending school is not just an opportunity to learn, but also their only chance to have a meal and probably the only meal of the day.
It is for this reason that beneficiaries of school feeding programs in Zambia were happy when the government announced the re-opening of schools, six months after closing learning institutions as a measure to curb the further spread of COVID-19.
Eleven-year-old Margaret Mwanza, a resident of Ng'ombe compound, an unplanned settlement in Zambia's capital Lusaka is one of the many children benefiting from school feeding programs often implemented in low-income communities of Zambia.
Margaret explained that just like other children at her school she was happy to be in school again as that accord give her the opportunity to have a hot meal as well as get an education.
And Margaret's mother Judith Mwanza explained that many parents in Ng'ombe compound were happy with government's move to reopen schools because schools that run feeding programs helped to supplement struggling households' dietary needs.
"For the poor, lack of access to education is not the only worrying consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. The closing of schools meant children missing out on nutrition gains," Mwanza said.
She further commended Chikumbuso, a grassroots project in Ng'ombe compound that provides free education and school feeding program, which provides meals to over 500 vulnerable children, for stepping in to help the poor particularly now at a time when an increasing number of families are faced with unemployment and income loss challenges.
Getrude Banda, manager for Chikumbuso Project, said school feeding programs facilitate children's healthy growth and development as well as help improve concentration and educational performance in school even as children's energy levels are improved.
According to Banda, the programs also help to empower local food suppliers and vendors by creating a ready market for produce.
"More importantly, school feeding programs help communities to rise above poverty as they work to keep children in school thereby ensuring they complete their education. With an increase in the number of children completing school, the community will in the long run register improvements economically," she explained.
And Nicholas Sichilima, director of Blessing community school, which also runs a feeding program that caters for 180 vulnerable children of Misisi compound, a slum in Lusaka said school feeding programs said there is need to protect school feeding programs particularly during this period of a global crisis as they provide the much needed social safety net for vulnerable communities.
Sichilima asserted that lack of food may lead vulnerable households to resort to undesirable coping mechanisms such as child labour which may ultimately lead to increased school drop-out rates, gender-based violence and the selling of productive assets.
"There will need to continue sharing information, ideas and best practices aimed at coming up with practical solutions to sustain these initiatives and to help keep vulnerable children in school," he said.
According to the United Nations World Food Programme, 66 million primary school-age children go hungry every day, with 23 million hungry children in Africa alone. Enditem