ZAMBIA: KEEPING HUNGER OUT OF SCHOOL
Mweemba* (17), his family, friends and school mates are among the more than 2.3 million people across Zambia estimated to be severely food insecure, as the result of a combination of prolonged, severe drought in the western and southern provinces of Zambia over the past two rainy seasons in 2017 and 2018, and floods in the north. In addition to the loss of learning opportunities for children, households have lost livestock and small remnants such as goats and chickens which are a key source of livelihoods resulting in increased school drop outs and child labour. During this food insecurity period Mweemba migrated to Namibia with his family in search of work but he recently returned after Save the Children started the school feeding programme at his school. He is currently in the 7th grade and very happy to continue going to school.
Mweemba is the first born in a family of 10 children. His father was in a polygamous marriage with two wives and had 5 children with the first wife, of which Mweemba is the eldest and five with the second wife. His father passed away when Mweemba was just a young boy. He now lives with his mother, siblings, stepfather, stepmother and another relative not too far away from a school where him and his siblings attend.
Mweemba’s story in his own words (quotes):
"My parents grow maize and millet and work on other people’s fields for a living and this is work that my siblings and I also take part in. I help them with ploughing and weeding so this makes me miss school at least once a week. Last year, we did not have enough food because of the bad rains so it quickly run out. When food run out, we moved to another village to stay at my mother’s elder sister’s place but we did not stay for too long as my mother fell sick. In august when my mother fell sick and the food also started running out at my auntie’s place, we moved to Namibia where my uncle stays. He is the elder brother to my mother. In Namibia my uncle took her to a mission hospital where they said she had Tuberculosis but it didn’t take very long before she started getting better. I started working in my uncle’s garden but he wasn’t able to pay me any money or buy me any school materials but he gave me a pair of shoes which made me very happy.
In August last year I took my mother to Namibia where her elder brother lives, as she was very sick, she could not work in the fields anymore. The brother took her to the Mission hospital where she was diagnosed with TB. She was given treatment and got well enough to eventually move back home. She had got a bit fatter but is still too weak to work the fields. He helped his Uncle with gardening while he was there and asked him for help with school needs. He wasn’t able to give him any money but gave him some shoes and socks.
In December when my mother started feeling better we started making our way back to shangombo but we ended up in Sesheke as we run out of transport money. My mother got a message from her friends that our school had started receiving food so my siblings and I needed to go back to school. As my mother was still weak from the illness, I did some work in people’s fields in Sesheke to raise transport money to move back to Shangombo and within a short time we managed to move. We arrived quiet late after the rains had already come so we have not managed to plant much this season so we are not sure what we happen later in the year.
I am glad to be back in school, the food is very tasty and satisfying and my siblings and I are enjoying it a lot. I know at least three friends have remained in Namibia doing different types of work but I hope they also decide to come back because we now have food at school.”
Additional interview – School head teacher:
The school head teacher was also interviewed and he shared his views on the impact the Save the Children School feeding programme is having on the children. “Since the Save the Children school feeding programme started, we have seen a lot of children like Mweemba coming back to school. Especially the children who are a bit more grown up as they had gone to work in people’s fields or burn charcoal to support their families at the expense of being in school. We hope this programme continues for as long as possible so children can stay in school and learn.”
The United Nations has reported that a combination of prolonged, severe drought in the western and southern provinces of Zambia over the past two rainy seasons in 2017 and 2018, and floods in the north, have increased hunger, with more than 2.3 million people across the country expected to be severely food insecure through March 2020. Four districts – Sioma, Lunga, Shang’ombo and Gwembe – are facing emergency levels of food insecurity, according to the latest Integrated Phase Classification analysis. The lean season runs from October to March.
The main objective of Save the Children’s school feeding programme is to improve learning outcomes for children in Western and Southern provinces of Zambia. The outcome is to have increased access to quality and inclusive early childhood care and development education for children in the worst affected areas. The main activities for the programme is to provide High Energy Protein food Supplements (HEPS) to children so they can make use of the learning opportunities being offered to them. This is addition to privision of food packs including mealie meal, beans and cooking oil to households with children living with disabilities and other vaulnerable households.
450 Households in Sioma and Shang’ombo Districts with children enrolled at ECCDE centres were selected to receive food packs comprising of a 100kgs of maize meal, 20kgs of beans and three litres of Cooking oil.
This response is supported by funding from Irish Aid and UNICEF.
* Name has been changed to protect the identity of the subject