Botswana: School Feeding – Now and Then

| July 14, 2016

Carrying a food container and a piece of wood to school has always been the order of the day for primary school pupils.

It was part of the excitement about attending school and perhaps the reason why many students eagerly travelled long distances to school every morning without fail.

For some time, yellow maize meal, fondly and comically called malutu, sambombo, mokhungulu, sogama, matonosa, or fofo by students from all corners of the country was the main ration that was quite an appealing sensation.

"Today, the situation is shiny for our children; back in the days, we walked long distances in chilly mornings to collect water from rivers, wells, or ponds before going to school," reminisces Ms Serumilwe Khudu, who went to Kgamane Primary School in Shoshong in 1968.

Mr Khudu says some of them had had to pound sorghum before going to school, and that at school they had porridge done with fish oil, commonly known as fishiwele, as well as luscious raisins.

She says the fire wood they brought to school every day was used for cooking while the plates were used for food shares.

Interestingly, students, especially at primary schools, always carried their plates back home again after school instead of keeping them at school.

Whether it was for safe keeping or they still needed to use them again at home remains to be answered.

Students usually struck friendships with cooks, clearly for food favours, while cooks had names such as o jele, derived from their tendency to expose students caught cheating.

Break time was the most favourite as the school would be buzzing with noises and chuckles from plates and students rushing to the only water tap in the school to wash their plates and beat the queues for food.

Dr Thatayamodimo Rammapudi, who is a researcher with the education sector, says the history of school feeding programme varied depending on the period of time one was a student and what was on the menu then.

Dr Rammapudi says during one period the menu consisted of sorghum porridge done with powdered milk; during another period it was sorghum and beans; then it was yellow maize meal, fondly referred to as malutu; and then there was Mosuthwane, funa, bread, and soya.

For Ms Nashia Molapisi, who started her primary school in the 1970s, it was sambombo mixed with scrambled eggs.

Ms Molapisi says during school vacations, they would assemble at the kgotla with their parents and queue for leftover food which they would carry home.

During Mr Gaboswetstwe Setimela's time, malutu was their daily bread since 1976 at Mogorosi Primary School in the Central district and later at Letlhakane Primary School in Boteti.

Mr Setimelaa says later in the 1980s, beef relish from cattle bought from residents was introduced to go with mabele (sorghum).

"It was a wind fall for farmers who benefitted by selling their cattle, mostly old ones, to government for school feeding programme," he adds.

He says the version beef was such a special diet we would often take some for our siblings who did not attend school yet.

Another old scholar, Mr Moatswakgotla Toto, says during his primary school days at Bontleng Primary School in Gaborone in the 2000s, they had soya, boiled beef, funa drink and bread, soft porridge and milk, as well as butter beans.

Dr Rammapudi says school children appreciated the feeding programme for different reasons; for some rather than enhancing concentration levels in class, food made them sleepy.

He states that during his time, there never were concerns about the quality of the menu, instead, every student indulged in it regardless.

"Whenever we heard the second bell ring we knew it was time to go and eat," he chuckles, adding that they forever looked forward to the time

Other commentators say in the past hygiene was lacking as they used to hungrily consume expired beans despite their nature to harbour tshupa (insect pests).

In as far as education authorities are concerned, the school feeding programmes are important both as a safety net for children living in poverty and food insecurity, and are also a part of national education policies and plans.

Dr Rammapudi further says school feeding provides both educational and health benefits; it prevents children from feeling hungry during school time; it provides children with a balanced diet, keep them in school the whole day, and therefore reduce absenteeism to improve school attendance.

He points out that back in time, most children came from families that were not able to provide enough food for their children, adding that such pupils often went to school without breakfast, and that their meal was usually at 10 am.

To show that some students went to school just for food, some of them would disappear from school after meals while some would arrive late to school in time for meals

Today, particularly in remote areas, pupils are provided with three meals a day in the morning, at lunch and in the afternoon or evening after extracurricular and sport activities.

These pupils come largely from homes where parents depend on destitute rations and or the old age pension scheme.

Dr Rammapudi also mentions that the school is not just a place for providing education, but "it is also a place where pupils are fed and nurtured."

Unfortunately, modern day schools sometimes run out of food supplies due to late deliveries or limited stocks, especially at the beginning of the term.

"Aï¿œuring such times attendance in these schools drops," he points out, adding that since 2009 the government has introduced the purchase of quality food directly from farmers to allow them to get good prices for their farm produce.

Under the watchful eyes of local councils, schools buy maize, sweet reed, water melons, and groundnuts from farmers.

Transport limitations often thwarts councils' efforts to deliver food supplies in time, often until it is well into a school term or worse still, towards the end of term.

School heads say when this happens, pupils stop coming to school only to reappear after it has arrived.

In schools where the supplies went out and pupils got desperate, there have been reports of mass desertion.

Source: Botswana Daily News

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