In 2010, after a prolonged dry spell and food scarcity, children mainly in Namutumba suffered greatly from malnutrition.
PIC: Parents hold up sweet potatoes harvested from the school farm. (Credit: George Bita)
TEACHERS MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Every Wednesday and Thursday New Vision is profiling some of Uganda’s Teachers Making a Difference. The 12 most innovative teachers will share a cash prize of sh18m and the five most outstanding will go for a week-long all-expenses paid study tour to Ireland courtesy of New Vision, Irish Embassy in Uganda, Trocaire and Simba Travelcare, one of Uganda’s leading tour and travel management companies. Today, we bring you the story of Wilson Kasiisa, the headteacher of Nsoola Primary School.
(This story first ran in the New Vision paper on May 24)
Although Universal Primary Education (UPE) funds do not cater for lunch meals, for the last six years, Wilson Kasiisa has been feeding his pupils. The headmaster of Nsoola Primary School in Namutumba district has enlisted a nutrition initiative to benefi t the 1,060 pupils.
“There are no more cases of children dodging afternoon lessons because of hunger. They eat lunch on time and go back to class to study,” Kasiisa assures.
He explains that the learners have been involved in gardening on the 15-acre school farm. This has crops such as cassava, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, tomatoes, cabbage and sukuma wiki.
Monica Nandiyi, the teacher in charge of gardening narrates that pupils in upper classes have been given specific slots.
“They ensure the areas are weeded, water the plants, mulch and spray ipesticides,” she says.
She adds that the crop varieties being grown are of high nutritive value such as sweet potatoes rich in Vitamin A.
“The green vegetables supply iron plus other vital minerals. The pupils also get plant proteins in significant quantities which are important for the proper growth of the child,” Nandiyi says.
Nsoola pupils take their parents around the Nsoola Primary School
Moses Kanyarutokye, the Namutumba Chief Administrative Officer, said Kasiisa lobbied for the nutrition funding after realising the impact of hunger on the performance of pupils.
“His school was selected after he submitted a convincing proposal. Each financial year the project gets sh2m for garden preparation and farm tools,” Kanyarutokye said.
He explains that the intervention under Uganda Multi-Sectoral Food Security and Nutrition Project has improved school feeding.
“The pupils look healthier. I believe it is only a way of enticing them to attend school and eat good food,” Kanyarutokye said.
Genesis of the intervention
In 2010, after a prolonged dry spell and food scarcity, children mainly in Namutumba suffered greatly from malnutrition. This prompted a concerted effort by locals and the Government to intervene.
“The residents had associated the malnourished children with witchcraft until medical workers proved them wrong. There was a time when the number of children would be much higher during feeding times. In the morning the roll call would give us about 820 pupils and by lunch time it would shoots to 1,000,” he recalls.
Stephen Magoma, the outgoing district education offi cer, said that the Nsoola project is a blessing to UPE.
“Kasiisa is doing well as head of school in liaison with science teachers, health workers, sub-county extension staff and community. The idea is to provide a balanced diet to learners for proper growth,” Magoma emphasised.
He argues that if well-managed, the arrangement is the answer to several complaints about lack of a lunch meal for UPE learners.
“Parents have also been brought on board to benefi t and ensure sustainability of the project. They often buy the surplus crops such as potatoes, cassava and cabbages which generates funds,” Kasiisa said.
Alex Tibambona, assistant commissioner in agriculture ministry observed that the project at Nsoola Primary School is unique in that it brings together the three ministries of agriculture, health and education.
“It proves that you cannot have good education without agriculture to sustain proper health. Our children’s brains need good nutrients supplied from farms to perform well,” Tibambona argues.
Saleh Kumbuga, the Namutumba LC5 chairman commends the Nsoola Primary School nutrition initiative as a good feeding arrangement for pupils. “I appreciate what Kasiisa and his staff are doing to have the pupils feed well in a rural setting,” Kumbuga asserts.
Nandiyi laments that some parents who stay near school send their children to steal food from the gardens during the holidays.
According to her, the lack of a school fence complicates efforts to secure the gardens from domestic animals as well as thieves.
Kasiisa observes that heavy rains in the recent past have wreaked havoc on the gardens destroying crops.
“Since the stormy weather is accompanied by strong winds, the crops are blown over which causes huge losses,” he says.
Ruth Babita, a member of the school management committee, observes that Kasiisa has gone the extra mile to involve pupils in sports and games.
“A selection of trophies won in netball, football and drama are displayed in the headteacher’s office. Children do not only come here for the academics,” Babita notes.
Justine Nyaketcho, the music, dance and drama department head narrates that Kasiisa annually facilitates participation in district competitions.
“The participants are funded to buy the necessary attire and musical instruments. When funds can’t permit, necessities are hired,” Nyaketcho says.
Sarah Apiny, a teacher in charge of games and sports says the preparation of the sports field, purchase of balls and others is done in time. Prospects Kasiisa plans to have large capacity water tanks or irrigation tools to safeguard against unpredictable weather.
“Last year the prolonged dry spell wreaked havoc on the crops. Entire fi elds where left bare since we were unable to water the crops,” he argues. Kasiisa also hopes to improve management of the school garden during holidays by way of hired guards.
“When the school holidays set in neighbours trespass and damage the crops. It calls for increased security,” Kasiisa noted.
He disclosed that trees would be planted would be embraced soon to act as windbreaks. These will check on the recurrent storms threatening the crops on the school farm.
HOW RESIDENTS HAVE BENEFITED
Fauza Naigaga, pupil
The pupils now have a balanced diet. The school farm provides a variety of food throughout the year. We are grateful to our headteacher.
Annet Neka, district secretary for production
The intervention at Nsoola has enabled our children to smile after the misery of yesteryears. We need more such arrangements in future to benefit the entire district.
Samuel Diigo, parent at Nsoola Primary School
Our children attend school more often because of the improved feeding. It has helped the community to borrow a leaf and improve their own gardens.