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Vallary's story

Vallary with her mother Hellen outside their home Vallary with her mother Hellen outside their home

Primary school student Vallary, 11, lives with her mother Hellen and nephew in a one room shack in Kawangware, an overcrowded Nairobi slum where most of the 800,000 inhabitants survive on less than $1 a day. Vallary’s father died when she was just a baby and despite working seven days a week selling chicken meat, widow Hellen struggles to earn enough money to feed her family.

Vallary attends Dagoretti Muslim Primary School, where up to 80% of the pupils don’t get have a healthy, balanced diet. Farm Africa is working with the school to set up an urban vegetable garden so that Vallary and her classmates will be able to eat vegetables at lunch, giving them the vital nutrients they need to grow up healthy and do well at school. Here Vallary and Hellen talk about their experiences:

Vallary, 11:

“I live with my family in a single room house made of corrugated iron and I share a bed with my mum. My father died when I was two weeks old.

My mother sells chicken. Every morning we have tea and mandoza [a local fried bread made from wheat] for breakfast and during term time I eat lunch at school. But in the holidays I sometimes don’t have anything because my mother does not have enough money to buy food.

At dinner we have tea and rice with no vegetables or fruit. On special occasions like Christmas we get to eat meat. My favourite is chicken.

A lot of the time I get hungry in class, especially before lunch. It is hard to concentrate on what the teacher is saying because I am thinking about food and dreaming about chicken. I feel sleepy and sometimes I fall asleep in class. It makes me feel like sleeping when I am hungry, my stomach hurts and makes a gggrrrrrr sound. I think a lot about eating but I don’t get angry, I think that is the way life goes.

My mother did not finish primary school but she thinks it is important for me to go to school because it means I can bring good hope to my home.

I am going to work in the vegetable garden at school because it will help me to get food. I want to learn how to grow food so I can do it at home as well. It is important for children to eat vegetables so we can be strong and healthy.

When I grow up I want to be a surgeon because they are paid lots of money. Being a doctor is a good thing because if my family is sick I can treat them.”

Vallary’s mother Hellen, 47:

“My husband passed away when Vallary was two weeks old. He was sick for about six months and then he passed away, he used to cough a lot so we think it might have been TB, but we don’t know. It was very difficult to lose him and life has been very hard. I had to go to a friend to get a loan so I could start a business and earn money to care for my family.

I sell chicken legs, liver and gizzard. Although the business is doing OK there are too many doing the same thing. I earn about 500 shillings which has to pay for everything, to buy my stock, pay for food for my family and everything else including electricity and rent.

Even though I work every day it is really hard to earn enough money to feed my family - and the school normally charges 20 shillings a day for tuition. Business is so tough that I have now got into debt with the school and owe them over 2,000 shillings. Thankfully they have been kind and allowed Vallary to stay in school.

Even if it is hard, I want to make sure my children eat. It is my number one priority - I can't let them sleep hungry. During a week I can go without food for three days. I feel bad because I am weak and tired but I always make sure that the children will get at least something, even if it is just kagalie and tea.

I bite a bit of food and drink a bit of water to keep me going. It is hard to sleep when your stomach is empty. Sometimes at lunch we just have to rely on drinking to tie us over. Vallary is used to it so she doesn’t complain, she has to persevere.

When I don’t have money I plead with a neighbour, borrow some and pay it back. I try my level best with all my might so that Vallary doesn’t go to school hungry, without breakfast I know she would not be able to concentrate.

It is good that the school is having a greenhouse and I think it is wonderful that they are growing vegetables. Vallary’s body will grow strong and she will be more healthy than she is now

Vallary is a good child and works hard in school, she comes top of her class. She wants to do well in life and I want her to get a good education because it will help her in the future.”

Farm Africa is helping schools like Vallary's to set up urban vegetable gardens so that they can grow a nutritious supply of vegetables for the pupils at school, many of whom are at risk of malnutrition. Donate today and you could help other children like Vallary grow up healthy and strong. 


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