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The Hunger Dilemma: Our approach to Combatting Malnutrition

Updated: Jun 13

Back during my school days, I belonged to that group of kids who would go the extra mile to craft the perfect sandwich, especially during the tumultuous teenage years when that sandwich held the promise of being the day's highlight. In the delicate dance between two slices of bread, I carefully layered a lush bed of lettuce, slices of tomato, pickles, fresh pastrami, or the remnants of last night's chicken feast, crowned with the indispensable layer of mayonnaise—acting as the culinary glue holding the entire creation snug within the confines of a transparent plastic bag.

Fast forward to today, residing in an area plagued by one of the world's highest rates of child malnutrition, and that once-magical sandwich of my youth takes on a profound significance. It becomes a symbol of sustenance, a reminiscence of days when a well-crafted meal kept me nourished and energized throughout the challenges of a school day.

In Uganda, particularly in Karamoja, the practice of children bringing packed lunches to school is not common. The responsibility falls on the school to ensure that food is provided. For children enrolled in boarding schools, like the majority in our scholarship program, the school takes on the additional task of providing breakfast and dinner.

However, the stark reality is far from this ideal scenario. In theory, government schools in Uganda are meant to be free. In practice, due to insufficient funding from the Ministry of Education, these schools struggle to feed their students—especially in the case of larger institutions accommodating thousands of children. To bridge this gap, schools resort to charging tuition fees at the onset of each term. These fees are intended to cover essential expenses such as food, firewood, chalk, paper, and other basic supplies.

Regrettably, while this approach addresses one issue, it inadvertently creates another. Students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds find themselves unable to afford the tuition fees, leading to a heartbreaking consequence—dropping out of school. This vicious cycle deprives countless Ugandan children of the opportunity to break free from the shackles of poverty, exacerbating existing social inequalities.

The crisis persists, exacerbated by the global surge in food and fuel prices. Many schools in Uganda, grappling with these financial challenges, opt to increase their tuition fees, fully aware that it will force more children out of the educational system. Conversely, when schools strive to keep fees affordable, students attend classes on empty stomachs, compromising their ability to concentrate and succeed academically. The dilemma presents a poignant struggle where the pursuit of education is hindered by the very means intended to support it.

children in Karamoja, uganda, suffer from malnutrition and extreme poverty

The longstanding challenge of providing adequate nutrition to school children in Karamoja is a dilemma well-recognized by the World Food Programme (WFP). While the WFP consistently extends its support by delivering food supplies to schools in the region, the sheer scale of its global relief operations poses limitations. Despite their best efforts, recent geopolitical crises, such as those in Syria and Ukraine, have strained the resources allocated to Karamoja, resulting in a meager provision of 75 grams of food per child per day.

This allocation, equivalent to less than a single daily meal, predominantly comprises empty carbohydrates and a handful of beans. The inadequacy of this non-nutritious sustenance becomes glaring when considering its inability to foster healthy development in growing children or sustain schools throughout an entire academic term. Consequently, schools that cannot supplement their food supply face premature closures, diminishing the quality of education and further diminishing the prospects of success for the children in Karamoja.

The Impact of a Vision

Reflecting on the journey, it's incredible to consider the profound transformation that unfolded over the past two years at Naitakwae Primary School in Moroto, Karamoja. A seemingly ordinary day saw the arrival of Shiri and our team, accompanied by a group of 60 barefoot, raggedly clothed children - the embodiment of hope in the face of adversity.

In our earnest pursuit of empowering the underserved, we embarked on an impassioned dialogue with Joseph, the headteacher of Naitakwae Primary School. With determination and a shared vision for change, we presented Shanita's scholarship program. After much discussion and persuasion, Joseph became a trailblazer, leading Naitakwae to be the first government school in Uganda unafraid to embrace our unconventional idea - to enroll children from the most disadvantaged sectors of society and provide them with equal opportunities.

This pivotal moment marked the beginning of a journey that has since unfolded into a narrative of resilience, hope, and transformative impact. The lives of those 60 children, once defined by adversity, are now touched by the promise of education, breaking the chains of inequality, and opening doors to a brighter future.

Joseph, a beacon of honesty and resilience, emerged not just as a collaborator but as a valuable friend in Shanita's mission. The inception of our partnership was marked by Joseph's candid revelation about the dire state of Naitakwae Primary School. With little to offer, the school teetered on the brink of closure, grappling with insufficiencies that spanned from funds to the most fundamental necessity for growing minds - food.

Undeterred by the challenges laid bare before us, we, in unison with Joseph, proclaimed with unwavering confidence, "where there is nothing, anything can be done." Little did we anticipate the magnitude of what awaited us in the journey ahead.

What ensued was a narrative of surprises, challenges, and triumphs - a story that would redefine the trajectory of Naitakwae Primary School and the lives of the children it served. The unfolding chapters revealed not only the resilience of the human spirit but also the extraordinary possibilities that emerge when determination meets uncertainty.

In the wake of an unforeseen year-long tsunami of challenges, we, along with the unwavering support of friends of Shanita worldwide, clung to the hope that fueled our mission. Each obstacle was met with resilience, and we embarked on a journey of transformation, one challenge at a time.

The journey unfolded as a tapestry of endeavors: the metamorphosis of two classrooms into improvised dormitories for the program's children, the seamless integration of our matrons into the school system, fortifying the school's security apparatus to curb thefts and class skipping, the recruitment of highly qualified teachers to elevate the standard of education, enhancements to the water infrastructure, procurement of essential school supplies, and a myriad of other initiatives.

Through this whirlwind of tasks, our collective determination stood tall, a testament to the extraordinary power of global solidarity and the impact it can have on even the most intricate challenges. This is the story of how a community, bound by a common purpose, confronted adversity and emerged stronger, united in the pursuit of a better future for the children of Naitakwae Primary School.

In the realm of philanthropy, Shanita has always preferred the quiet hum of action over the blare of publicity. Yet, as whispers about the transformative support reached the Head of the District, a conversation ensued, culminating in a supportive recommendation that echoed across the Karamoja landscape.

At the dawn of the 2023 school year, Naitakwae School officially welcomed Shanita into its fold as a partner. This newfound alliance granted us full control over the school dormitories, paving the way for growth and expansion. With a diligent touch, we breathed new life into the dorms—renovating, painting, and cleaning—to accommodate not just 60, but now 112 Shanita children. The potential for more to join is ever-present, bolstered by our dedicated on-site team working tirelessly, round the clock, to cater to the holistic needs of these budding minds.

Our journey, once marked by rumors, has now evolved into a testament of collaboration and impact, echoing far beyond the walls of Naitakwae School. As we continue to navigate this transformative path, we hold steadfast to our commitment to providing equal opportunities, silently scripting a story of hope and resilience in the heart of Karamoja.

In the sphere of philanthropy, Shanita prefers the quiet hum of action to the blare of publicity. It's a melody that resonated across the Karamoja landscape when whispers about the transformative support reached the Head of the District. A conversation ensued, harmonizing into a supportive recommendation that reverberated through the corridors of impact.

As the 2023 school year dawned, Naitakwae School extended an official welcome, embracing Shanita as a partner. This partnership unfolded new chapters, granting full control over the school dormitories—a canvas for growth and expansion. With diligence as our brush, we painted a brighter future, renovating, cleaning, and expanding the dorms to accommodate not just 60, but now 112 Shanita children. The echo of potential lingers, with space for more, supported by our tireless on-site team, working round the clock to nurture the holistic needs of these budding minds.

What began as rumors evolved into a testament of collaboration and impact, reaching beyond Naitakwae School's walls. In navigating this transformative path, we remain steadfast in our commitment to providing equal opportunities—silently scripting a symphony of hope and resilience in the heart of Karamoja.


How can we solve this challenge?

The Naitakwae school has 1,032 students.

Our aim is to supplement the basic amount of food given to each child by 115 grams per day, including corn and beans alongside greens, to improve the children’s nutrition and support their development. This means a total of 30 tons per year.

Step 1– Growing food. In preparation for the rainy season, we are working together with the school to cultivate every free piece of land around the school. From a 1.5-acre plot located just behind Shanita’s dorms, which we have plowed and cleaned and used to sow maize and beans, to small vegetable gardens around the school for growing tomatoes, onions, cabbage and greens. We recruited the program’s parents, who were happy to join us and lend a hand. Once we harvest, we’ll have an idea of the potential for growing food and the amount we need to grow every year.

Step 2 –Finding food partners. Any food we manage to grow will be a wonderful addition, but there are things we cannot grow or produce ourselves such as rice, salt, cooking oil, etc. Therefore, we still need to find permanent partnerships. I’d like to take this opportunity to say a huge thank you to our friends in Innovation: Africa, who have donated food for the entire school for the coming term.

Step 3 – Intergenerational program. Many of the mothers of children in Shanita’s scholarship program survive through small-scale crops and agriculture. We launched a program in which those mothers who work in agriculture will be able to come and learn useful farming techniques and tools which will help them to increase their crop yield, expand their gardens and produce food not just for their own survival, but to generate income – food which we will purchase from them. In doing so, we will provide direct financial support for families of the program’s children, while helping the school to remain open.

Dear friends – I, Shiri, and everyone at Shanita would like to thank you for your continued support and generosity. In the past few months we have had many successes. This could not have happened without you. Providing solutions and support for children in need is our mission in life, it’s what makes us feel whole. Therefore, no challenge is too great and giving up is not an option. As we continue our work here in Uganda, we would like to wish you all a very happy Passover and Easter and send you a big hug from us and from the children.

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