As graduation ceremonies go it was a small affair, but for the ten previously unemployed St Helena Bay women graduating as qualified food handlers it was a big deal.
Their achievement is an important part of a pioneering project at a local primary school which seeks to make school feeding more impactful.
For many of the children school meals are the main source of nutrition. Typically, though, to stretch resources feeding programmes only provide meals for those who most need them.
“While this is entirely logical from a resource-management perspective, the problem is that children who accept the meals get stigmatised. When this happens, some children would rather go hungry than be teased and this makes the feeding programme less effective,” explains Petrina Pakoe, director of the Peninsula School Feeding Association.
To overcome this problem, the Peninsula School Feeding Association, along with long-time partner, Oceana, has been piloting a solution at HP Williams Primary School, where some of the learners’ parents work across the road at Oceana’s Lucky Star cannery.
Instead of providing meals to only the most needy children, every child gets a healthy, nutritious, tasty meal, every day. This ‘feeding with dignity’ approach effectively seeks to remove any stigma associated with accepting a school meal.
Oceana has donated a fully equipped, containerised kitchen as well as providing a spacious dining area, with tables and chairs so the children don’t have to eat their meals sitting on the ground.
The newly qualified community volunteers prepare the meals. Their training is fully accredited and is delivered by another Oceana-supported project, the YES Genesis Hub Culinary Academy in nearby Vredenburg.
“The idea is that as well as making the feeding scheme more impactful and consequently improving the school’s educational outcomes – after all you can’t teach a hungry child – the women also benefit from receiving recognised, marketable skills,” explains Zodwa Velleman, Oceana executive for corporate and regulatory affairs.
Their training, overseen by chef Allister Essau, is thorough and includes both theoretical and practical components and assessments. The 17-day course covers food preparation using a variety of ingredients, creating menus, food safety, meeting regulatory hygiene requirements and budgeting.
Velleman says she’s been asked whether providing accredited training, skills and experience to the community volunteers is a risk as it may mean they leave the programme to pursue other opportunities.
“Actually, the opposite is true. If these women are able to use what they learn from this programme to empower themselves and better their lives and those of their families and community, that’s first prize. It also means we’ll have no shortage of new volunteers to take their place.”
She says the St Helena Bay project which was launched just under a year ago has proved so successful that it is now being replicated in two additional schools along the West Coast this year.