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UN Fights Hunger In Gulu Schools

By Vision Reporter

Added 25th March 2002 03:00 AM

A few years ago, many children in Gulu’s displaced people’s camps were dropping out of school every term. Some could not afford to attend afternoon classes.

A few years ago, many children in Gulu’s displaced people’s camps were dropping out of school every term. Some could not afford to attend afternoon classes.

By Denis Ocwich in Gulu A few years ago, many children in Gulu’s displaced people’s camps were dropping out of school every term. Some could not afford to attend afternoon classes. Each day, they would study on half-empty stomachs for only half a day then go back home to lie hungry in their houses, without lunch. But now, teachers have to cope with increased enrolment, especially in lower primary. At least the children are no longer cutting lessons because of hunger. Even those who had not yet joined the Universal Primary Education (UPE) - including the ones who should still be in kindergarten - are now in school. The positive trend is owed to the United Nation’s World Food Programme (WFP) which, after witnessing alarming child malnutrition, introduced a school-feeding programme for the pupils displaced by the long-running Joseph Kony war in northern Uganda. Having started in March 1999 with Pongdwongo camp where 13 schools from Aswa county were displaced, the project now covers 95 schools with a population of 45,000 pupils. Currently, 25 ‘protected villages’ are catered for. “The WFP Gulu is in the process of enrolling 50 more schools in Omoro and Nwoya counties to the programme this term, targeting 32,100 pupils, 40% of whom are girls,” said Josephine Flora Ojera, the WFP school feeding Focal Person in the district. By the end of this term, the WFP will be providing free lunch for over 80,000 pupils. Per day, each child consumes 200 grams of cereals (posho), 60 grams of beans or peas and 15 grams of vegetable cooking oil. “This contributes to about 30% of the children’s nutritional requirements,” said Ojera, adding that for the 145 schools, they would distribute 387.4 metric tonnes of food every month. Like most teachers and parents, Mr George Ochol Onono, the district education officer (DEO), is all praise for the significant impact that the feeding campaign has recorded. “You know one reason why a child does not concentrate in school is hunger. So obviously the programme has reduced the school drop-out rate,” Onono said. Since the project was launched, he said, more children had been attracted to school - some just because of food. “We are now thinking of creating day care centres in camp schools because even the young ones who are not yet old enough to join primary, are already there,” the DEO said. Currently, out of 232 primary schools in the district - including those in the Municipality - over a half of them are displaced, Onono said. At Jimo Primary School in Awer camp, Lamogi sub-county, the head teacher, Mr James Penywii Abaco said other than improving the health of the children, the school feeding programme had helped to curb late arrival of students at school. He said: “The school feeding has really maintained the health of the children. Of recent, we have not lost (to death) any child.” Abaco said the number of children enrolled for UPE at his school had shot up from 307 to 904, basically because of the food ration distribution. In Pabbo camp, Mr Julius Mike Tokwiny,headteaher, Olinga P7 school, hailed the feeding programme. His only worry was that his school had taken quite sometime without receiving the food. The WFP, however, assured him that there should not be any cause for alarm because all was being done to ensure that the feeding scheme is bolstered. Onono said although academic performance in the local schools was still bad, it was gradually improving. He said: “There has been improvement but I am still not excited because we could do better.” In the last PLE results, the district saw a 40% improvement in the pass marks. Out of 6,560 pupils who sat from 215 centres in the district, only 228 got grade one, representing 1.7%. The performance was better in the Municipality schools which had 152 first graders from 22 schools compared to only 76 from 193 rural schools. Overall, the best PLE boy in the district got aggregate five, and the best girl scored 13. The results did not surprise anybody, given the fact that most pupils in the district have to study under harsh environment because of the decade-long Kony war. But still, even schools in the camps had some improvement, though most of their best students had second grades. “Last year we got five (out of 20) candidates in division two, compared to only two in the previous year. At least that was better,” said Tokwiny, the head, Olinga P7 School. Indeed, the pupils in Gulu have the capacity to do as well as their peers in Kampala. But the traumatic environment in which they study is the stumbling block. Most of them study in ramshackle classrooms with hardly any furniture and only a few textbooks. “Our candidates cannot revise when they go back homes because all the family members share the same hut used for cooking, sleeping and entertaining visitors,” noted Penywii Abaco, the head teacher of Jimo P7 in Awer camp. True, many people agree that Kony is the main cause of Gulu’s stumbling education. But the DEO, George Ochol - Onono thinks the war question should now be a constant factor, and no longer an excuse for the appalling academic trends. “We have been in the war situation for 15 years. Given this, what are we able to do in order to improve our performance?” asks Onono. Well, they all expect better performance this year, if all goes well. Ends

UN Fights Hunger In Gulu Schools

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