The feeding programme in the desert
Our content development manager Shona shares an update from her first visit to Turkana, in northern Kenya, where harsh conditions make it hard for children and their families to find or grow enough food to eat.
I think the rain may be about to start. There was thunder clapping overhead as I woke from my brief doze. There’s a wind in the air and clouds overhead and there were a couple of drops as I waited for my bags to be brought from the aeroplane this morning.
Our head of programmes Emma once told me that she was here when the rains started and was stranded out there for three days because she couldn’t get back and the bridge was flooded.
‘Out there’ is Turkana and with our partner – Caritas Lodwar –we feed 6,013 children across their diocese which I’m told is “the size of Ireland” at 77,000km². I was glued to the plane window on my short flight here from Eldoret. First there were the townships of western Kenya. Tin roofs packed together with farm land round about. They thinned to reveal rocky ground, then a huge blanket of forest as our little aeroplane’s shadow moved over the landscape below.
I turned away from the window and closed my eyes for mere minutes and when I looked back again, everything was yellow and dusty sand! As we came to land, smallholdings began to appear – distinguished by their small, circular huts with thatched roofs and little stone walls to mark their boundaries.
My first stop was to meet the wonderful team that runs the feeding programme here. Dilini is a volunteer from Sri Lanka who helps to fulfil the role of school feeding officer – monitoring enrolment figures and stock levels. Caroline is a nutritionist and helps to monitor the children’s progress. Then there is David who is the programme coordinator. As someone who used to attend school here as a young boy, he truly understands the impact of the programme he now runs.
David explained some of the challenges facing the people here – early marriages, nomadic tribes routinely on the move and drought to name just a few.
And the lack of food. Animals are the main source for meat, and when the rain comes, they provide the children’s favourite too – milk! But it hadn’t rained for months.
People supplement this with little berries, which aren’t great for you but they taste sweet. When the milk runs out the children come to school because the promise of nutritious Mary’s Meals seems to be the only thing that attracts a lot of them to the classroom.
I learn that things are changing – in the past a family thought a girl couldn’t have a traditional marriage if she also had an education. So they would take her out of school. But now, some girls are doing both – and the fact this education is enabling girls to find jobs and therefore provide for the family too is challenging attitudes and showing communities how powerful a tool education can be.
The team head off to stock up on water for our long drive north the next morning. Turkana has already left its mark on me – it’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. And it is clear it is a challenging place to live and work. I’ve barely scratched the surface but already know the children and families here must be incredibly resilient and Mary’s Meals’ presence is providing a lifeline to some very hungry children.