The rusted tin panels of the merry-go-round, painted in bright red, blue, and yellow, heat up beneath the blistering Ugandan sun. But whether we are sweating in the heat, or doused with a cool rain sweeping through the hills with a passing thunderstorm, the children are undeterred. They dart out from the classroom with its rickety wooden chairs and tables, rotting makeshift blackboard, and paint chipping off the walls, hidden by student artwork, to play on their rickety merry-go-round, slide, and teeter-totter that Sr. Lucy scraped up the money to commission from a local metal worker. I don’t think the children see the rust, ragged edges, and chipping paint.
Every morning it is the same. They run out to play for recess and I’m assailed by cries of “Teacher Kirabo,” as they call for me to come and play. It’s just not as fun unless you make the teacher run in an eternal circle to turn the merry-go-round, and manually lift and lower the teeter-totter laden with five or six kids since the metal seat is too wide for small feet to touch the ground on either side. But there are always a few students who are too hungry to play.
I see them standing on the edge of the courtyard, looking into the dining hall – an empty classroom with some tables and a couple blankets in a corner where they sit for porridge break. Porridge break, though it doesn’t seem like much, is more than they get at home. They come to school having eaten no breakfast, and possibly nothing the night before. They’re hungry. Each child is supposed to bring something to supplement their snack; a piece of bread, a banana or some other fruit. These children bring nothing.
I wasn’t alone in noticing this. Sr. Lucy and Sr. Kyomukama, who run St. Anthony Nursery School, are well aware of the problem. When I asked why we couldn’t provide the children with breakfast too, or at least something else to go with their porridge, they said it was because there was simply no money. It is expensive to buy the extra food, and most parents are unable to pay the full school fees (which are already low) and some can’t pay at all. Their children attend simply because Sr. Lucy refuses to turn them away.
The solution we found to this perpetual cycle of hunger at school – grumbling bellies distracting children from their studies? Chickens. Sr. Kyom Kyom showed me back to the garden, behind the school, where she was slowly putting together a chicken coop with whatever money she could find. All she needed now was some chicken wire to be installed, and chickens. So we found donors from the CARITAS For Children child sponsorship programs to pay for the chickens, and I left Nkokonjeru, and we waited.
The chickens arrived! We started out with fifty small chicks, specially ordered for their ability to produce eggs. Forty-seven remain, they have grown, and within the next two or three months, are expected to produce eggs.
The goal is that once the chickens start to produce eggs, the children will be able to eat breakfast at school. The protein will supplement the porridge they get at break time, and keep them full and focused on their studies. This is particularly important for those children who are not getting enough to eat at home. The extra eggs the chickens produce will be sold in the market to provide the school with funds to buy bread to supplement the children’s diet with varied grains. The extra money will also help Sr. Lucy keep the school running by covering the cost for families who cannot afford school fees until a sponsor is found through CARITAS For Children’s child sponsorship programs.
You can help children in our child sponsorship programs here.