The scent of porridge wafted through the corridors of Westminster yesterday morning, as MPs sampled a breakfast that is transforming the lives of thousands of children in Africa. Mary’s Meals, a charity that runs school feeding projects in developing countries, invited politicians to try a mug of the corn-soya-blend porridge, or ‘likuni phala’, that it provides for more than 350,000 children across Malawi every school day. Likuni Phala was developed by nutritionists and is recommended by Save the Children. It contains, maize, soya, vitamins, minerals and some sugar.
The event in Portcullis House marked World Porridge Day, which was on Sunday (October 10), and World Food Day, next Saturday (October 16th) and was hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development, a cross party initiative aiming at bringing together Parliamentarians concerned with agriculture, nutrition and wider food security in the developing world.
While the ‘taste test’ was a celebration of an international dish, it also gave MPs the opportunity to learn more about the role that school feeding projects play in countries such as Malawi, Liberia and Haiti – providing hungry children with a guaranteed source of nutrition and an incentive to go to school.
School feeding is a powerful intervention in both nutrition and education. In the UK, providing free meals for poorer students is taken for granted, but it is even more important in countries like Malawi where the porridge provided by organisations like Mary’s Meals is for many children the only meal they will eat all day. Children who are malnourished are disadvantaged from the very beginning of their lives – hunger affects cognitive development and it is almost impossible to learn on an empty stomach. School feeding therefore makes a vital contribution to increasing learning outcomes for those children who are in school and hungry.
In addition, it also a very effective way of encouraging school attendance. Parents who are struggling to feed their families are far more likely to send their children to school if a free meal is available. Organisations like Mary’s Meals and many others working in this area consistently see large, immediate increases in attendance when school feeding is introduced. For more details, see the ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ document available on Mary’s Meals’ website.
As part of our work on education with Parliamentarians, RESULTS was lucky enough to take part in the event. Our Education Associate, Margaret Ya’u (who is with us on a three month Commonwealth Scholarship from CSACEFA in Nigeria) was able to meet the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow MP. Margaret discussed Nigeria’s struggling school feeding programme with the Speaker, who expressed his strong support for school feeding initiatives in the developing world.
The event was a great experience and a wonderful opportunity to speak to MPs about the linkages between nutrition and education, as well as wider issues in education. Many thanks to Mary’s Meals and the APPG on Agriculture and Food for Development for inviting us along!