Special Report #2
In late 2005, the government of Ghana founded the Ghana School Feeding Program in response to the crisis of public schools not being able to afford to feed all of the children who attend school.
The strategy of the program is to increase domestic food production, household incomes and food security in some of the most poverty stricken regions of Ghana.
Another goal of the program is to put locally grown foods in the schools for children to eat instead of food being brought in to every school by the government.
Sarah Achempong, grade school teacher in Ghana, said that this program is a good thing because Ghanaian children already have so much to worry about in a normal day, and what they are going to eat should not be one of them.
According to Achempong, the average Ghanaian elementary aged child will wake up a day break, complete all of their chores, and be at school by 7:00 or 8:00 a.m. Children are often walking miles to school with poor or no shoes. They spend the day at school, and then have to make the same walk back home at the end of they day.
“The children need schools to provide food for them to help them perform their day-to-day activities,” Achempong said.
The Ghana School Feeding Program has been instrumental in helping feed 1.6 million children in 4,000 schools. The program did this by hiring out local caterers to cook in the schools for the children.
Despite the program’s success, it has hit a bump in the road. Beginning a few years ago, the government became unable to fund the program.
The executive director of Ghana School Feeding Program, S.P. Adamu, told Ghanaian media that the program was broke and would not be able to pay its debt to caterers.
In September, caterers in the Volta region of Ghana threatened to go on strike because the government owed them approximately one million dollars.
Government did admit that it actually owes caterers all over the country under the Ghana School Feeding Program a total of about 100 million dollars.
The Ghanaian government now turns to interest groups to bring in money to fuel the Common Fund and help pay the caterers.
According to Nii Lante Vanderpuye, Deputy Local government Minister, in the government has paid 151 days, which represents 147 million Ghana Cedi. The government is left with a debt of 101 Ghana Cedi and 76 days to pay it.
“I don’t know how the caterers could really go on strike and stop feeding the children,” Achempong said. “They are just kids and the money issue is not their fault. They still have to eat.”
Achempong also said that the food that is in schools now is not of good nutritional value, but that it is better than nothing.
Achempong described how students eat in schools. At lunchtime, children will line up outside under a tree and go through a buffet type assembly line. Most of the time the food is only rice with some form of sauce or spiced or flavor. Achempong said that the school she works in does not have a lunchroom and that techeres will simply take their classes outside and give them food.
According to Achempong, instead of using dishes, the staff spoons rice into small plastic bags and gives each child a bag of rice for their meal.
Ricky McWhorter and Sara McWhorter have been doing work in Ghana for 10 years, and have extensive experience in public schools. McWhorter said that it is easy to tell that most of the school children are dealing with extreme poverty on a daily basis.
Ricky said that many children have bloated stomachs and hair that have taken on an orange tone from malnutrition.
“ I think the government had a good thing going in the schools with GSFP,” he said. “Even though food is limited, it seemed like that was one less thing kids had to worry about when they came to school.”
Ricky said that he realizes that there is a definite lack of resources and that poverty is high where government assistance seems to be low.
However, he said that despite their health challenges, children in Ghanaian schools are highly intelligent and could be considered ahead of American children in some ways.
Ricky recalled a child named Joseph at an orphanage grade school. Joseph, a first grader, stood in front of Ricky with his tattered book in hand and sang “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in French.
“I’m always so impressed with their discipline and their great desire to learn,” Ricky said.
Ricky also said that even though schools do not do a great job of providing nutrition for their students, he felt the credit should be given to the Ghanaian people for how they take care of their schools.
“It’s funny when you compare them with us,” Ricky said. “They take such great care of the mud huts or concrete stables they have for schools when we have very nice schools in the states that we don’t always care for the way we should.”
Sara said that the time she spends teaching and working in Ghanaian schools teaches her that we, as Americans, have no business complaining about how our government does not do enough for our schools. She said that although it could be argued that more should be done for U.S. schools, there are countries out there that can barely afford to feed the children in their schools.
“It seems to me that the government does the best it can for the most part,” Sara said.
Officials working with the GSFP plan to continue to work with schools to the best of their ability and will continue to monitor and evaluate the situation.
Vanderpuye also told media that the Local Government Ministry plans to ensure school children with quality food “not withstanding government’s inability to raise the needed funds to pay caterers.