Emily van Rijswijck
An innovative project is converting the humble shipping container into a fully-fledged mobile kitchen which helps to give thousands of South African primary school pupils a hot, healthy meal every day.
The initiative, conceived by discount retailer Game Stores, is known as Amalunchbox.
It’s a corporate social investment programme started by the company in 2008, and has thus far provided 88 container kitchens around South Africa at a total cost of R5.7-million (US$744 000).
"The kitchens allow the schools to give pupils at least one nutritious, hygienically prepared hot meal per day," says Iris Naidoo, Game’s corporate social investment specialist.
Making it easier to provide kids with meals
Five schools in Empangeni and Richards Bay in KwaZulu-Natal are the latest recipients of the bright pink kitchens, equipped at a cost of R65 000 ($8 500) each. They are Samangu Primary, Mvuzane Primary, Mxosheni Primary, Mabodla Primary and Nqqamzana Primary.
Each kitchen comes with a four-plate gas burner, a double-bowl sink, stainless steel counters, shelving, four 100l cooking pots, serving spoons and enough bright pink tumblers, plates and spoons for every child.
Nqqamzana Primary School principal Thelma Matlena says many of the 670 pupils enrolled in her school come from child-headed households and depend on receiving their nutrition entirely from the meal they get at school. The kitchen has not come a moment too soon, she says. Prior to this, food was cooked under a tree, which was quite a challenge.
“When it was raining it became very difficult to cook for our kids. We had to use a veranda floor or classrooms to cook. When it was windy, we also experienced many problems. Fires could become unmanageable. Food was often half cooked. Firewood was also a problem and we had to go to the forest to collect it each morning.”
Recently another 12 schools in Johannesburg have received kitchens, which will be formally launched by the Gauteng Department of Education, bringing the total number of Amalunchbox kitchens to 100.
Game CEO Jan Potgieter says the investment is not just about putting food on plates. Because many schools lack basic resources, providing prepared meals can be a real challenge and the Amalunchbox kitchens play an important role in providing the necessary tools for and ideal circumstances in which to prepare food.
“Over the past two years, the Department of Education has focused not only on providing meals to more children but also on improving the quality of meals provided and has offered guidance on meal preparation, food safety and hygiene,” he says. “We are playing our part by providing kitchens.”
Giving back to the community
While the district offices within the local Department of Education nominates schools that qualify for an Amalunchbox kitchen – the schools must be within a 100 km radius of a Game store – the actual location is determined by the Provincial Department of School Nutrition, says Naidoo.
"With the kitchens we want to show to the customers who support their local Game store that the company, in turn, is giving back to the community in a visible way," she says.
When the programme was introduced, says Naidoo, holding company Mass Discounters indicated a social investment focus on education. Because it’s well known that teaching s hungry child is difficult, a feeding scheme seemed an appropriate response, but the company soon realised that many schools lacked the appropriate infrastructure to prepare hygienic meals at the school premises. And so the customised container kitchen was born.
"We had to consider all kinds of practical implications, such as the heavy pots, and making wooden spoons which are big enough to stir with. It took about two years to perfect the design," says Naidoo.
One square meal a day
A national nutrition programme was started in 1994 at selected schools throughout the country at the instigation of then-president Nelson Mandela.
The idea was to provide well-balanced meals to the poorest primary schools, with the aim of improving school performance and learning in general. The name of the programme was later changed to the National School Nutrition Programme after an assessment revealed that there were equally great nutritional needs at secondary school level.
Now in its 18th year, the NSNP at first provided only cold meals, but later realised the importance to children of providing a hot meal.
Basic nutrition is the constitutional right of every child in South Africa, yet for many the NSNP provides the only meal of the day.
In 2008 Statistics South Africa found that 140 000 children in Gauteng and more than 3.3-million children in the country went hungry “often” or “always”. According to teachers interviewed, food supplied to pupils via the school schemes are the only guaranteed meals for more than 70% of pupils at the most disadvantaged schools.
Secondary schools included
In 2009/10 the programme was extended to include the most disadvantaged secondary schools in the quintile 1 and 2 groups, a move welcomed by teachers and parents alike. South Africa uses the quintile system of ranking and funding of schools, which takes into account the socio-economic circumstances of pupils.
The lower quintile schools receive more funding from government.
According to the NSNP’s annual report the programme reached more than seven-million pupils in more than 20 000 schools in 2009. There was also a general improvement in the quality of meals provided, with all provinces now including vegetables and fruit in the meal.
In addition, in 2009 the programme provided employment for almost 38 000 individuals, who prepared and served the food.
Other companies involved in the NSNP are Huletts Sugar, CTP Printers, communications company Shop Talk, design consultancy the HKLM Group and Mykel Nicolaus Photography, which sponsored the development, printing and delivery of a NSNP recipe book entitled Mnandi 4 Sure.
The recipe book may be downloaded (PDF, 6.8MB).