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Interview with Alice

Our Young Urban Farmers Project in Kenya gives essential tools and training to children and young people so they can establish school vegetable gardens and grow nutritious food. Many children in Dagoretti district, Nairobi, are vulnerable to malnutrition and for some of them a school lunch is the only meal they get each day. Not only is this a health risk, but going to school hungry means that children are unable to concentrate, and their teachers find teaching a hungry class very challenging.

We spoke to a teacher from Dagoretti, Alice, about her school, and why she is so excited about a project between her school and Farm Africa, to create urban vegetable gardens where they will grow healthy food for pupils to eat, adding a range of vital nutrients to their diet.

Background information:

Alice Njeru, a 45-year-old teacher in Nairobi, Kenya, has spent the past 20 years doing all that she can to help her students reach their full potential. But it’s not easy because many of her pupils don’t have enough food to eat and when being hungry and malnourished they can't concentrate.

Alice is a senior teacher at Dagoretti Muslim Primary School in Kawangware, a Nairobi slum with a population of around 800,000, most of whom survive on less than $1 a day.

Interview with Alice, 21 October 2015:

“Poverty carries a lot of problems and the students I teach face big challenges because of where they come from. The slums in Kawangware where they live are very dirty and sewage gets into the water. They often fall sick and frequently have to miss school. Many parents cannot afford to feed their families properly so children don’t get the nutrients they need to fight diseases.

Children arrive at school in the morning having not eaten breakfast and the ones who are hungry generally have a poor academic performance. I have seen children who are clever but can’t concentrate and doze in class. When you ask them why they are sleeping they tell you it is because they are hungry and they didn’t sleep well the night before - it is hard to sleep when you haven’t eaten.

Teaching a class that is hungry is difficult. They find it hard to listen to you, they don’t have energy and sometimes it makes them disruptive - they don’t want to sit there when their stomachs are empty. I have a class of 60 and the room is very crowded, you end up focusing on the ones who are interested while the others fall behind.

It can be very frustrating as a teacher because you want the best for all your students. I see they are very talented and I feel bad when a child is being prevented from reaching their full potential. I try to address the children’s problems and sometimes I buy something for them to eat, but it can be hard to contain them at school and some drop out to start selling scrap metal and plastic.

One of the reasons children come to our school is because we give them lunch, and for some, it is the only meal they get. We run a feeding programme and every day we serve githeri, which is made from a mix of maize, beans, oil and salt. The problem is that it is not well balanced, it fills them up but doesn’t provide all the nutrients a growing child needs.

We feel that children need to eat properly which is why we have partnered with Farm Africa to set up a vegetable garden at our school. We are going to be trained in how to grow tomatoes, peppers, onions, spinach, kale, and other green leafy vegetables which are rich in vitamins. To start with we will produce just enough to add to our school meals but hopefully in the future we will be able to expand so that we can sell the surplus and generate extra income for our school.

We are going to set up a Young Farmers Club and an Environmental Club where children and their parents will be taught how to grow food in an urban environment. As well as helping at school, they will be able to take what they have learned and grow things at home too. We will be very happy when we can start giving the children vegetables to supplement their diet, giving them the important vitamins they need to grow well and reach their full potential.” 

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