Côte d’Ivoire: Feeding children will keep them in school
Looking at the new village primary school, Celestin Kouassi remembered what it looked like seven years ago.
“Back then, the three class rooms were just open huts with thatched roofs, just like the one behind us built by the villagers,” says Celestin who works for Soleil Levant (Raising Sun), a local NGO assisting villagers in Flatchiédougou in Zanzan district in north-eastern Côte d’Ivoire. “The old school could not accommodate all the kids who wanted to go. It could take 100, and even that was too many. But with the help of UNICEF, we were able to erect the first permanent building.”
“Two years ago, we completed construction of the second building, thanks to Save the Children. All the kids in the village - 380 boys and girls - can now be accommodated from first to sixth grade,” explains Celestin who is very proud of the achievement.
“The time and money spent by aid organizations was a good investment. Kids are now able to read and write. Education is important to promote social cohesion and reconciliation in Côte d’Ivoire,” he adds.
Poverty levels in the Zanzan district, however, remain among the highest in Côte d’Ivoire. Six people out of 10 live below the poverty line which means that they cannot afford a daily supply of 1kg of rice – the local staple food. In addition, three-quarters of the population have no adequate access to clean water.
Because of lack of funding, most international NGOs have scaled down their activities on the ground and manage their programmes from afar through local implementation partners such as Soleil Levant. But there is not enough assistance to cover all the needs of the people.
School feeding programmes
In impoverished rural areas, feeding children at school keeps them in school for longer and encourages parents to send girls to school. To help the children finish their primary education, Soleil Levant is thinking of creating school feeding programmes. “Villagers are able and willing to contribute their labour towards building the canteen and the kitchen but we have no aid organizations ready to help financially,” laments Celestin.
Ten kilometers away, Djobardaounou village was fortunate enough to have one local aid organization willing to help feed children at school. But the villagers would have to do most of the work themselves.
In 2009, the local NGO Notre Grenier (Our Breadbasket) lent 80kg of rice seeds to a group of volunteers in the village against their promise to build a canteen and a kitchen for the school.
The agreement was that the volunteer villagers should grow the seeds to feed the children at school; in return they didn’t have to pay back the loan until they were able to generate revenue.
Some villagers secured swamplands around the village to start rice production. The first harvest yielded 10 tons of rice.
Since then, the harvest has quadrupled, school enrollment increased from 80 to 160, including 85 girls, and more volunteers have joined the programme.
“There was a snowball effect“, Diarra Vatogoma, a teacher and leader of the group of volunteers explains. “It all started with a few seeds and now we have extended the production from 5 ha to 20 ha. The school feeding programme is self-sustaining and more and more children are attending classes,” he says. “Members of the group are able to supply local markets and feed themselves. Food insecurity is no longer an issue here,” he adds.
Thanks to extra revenues they got from selling their rice harvests, villagers are now able to grow other crops and extend their farmlands beyond the boundaries of their villages.
However, more money need to be invested to buy better tools and irrigation materials to sustain the growth in farmlands and further diversify production, they say.
But just as in Flatchiédougou, they aren’t enough aid organization around to help.