Countering the snack attack

2011-11-12 17:57

South Africa’s children are growing fat and unfit. Some schools lack the resources to offer learners regular sport and recreation.

Others struggle to establish a culture of good eating habits in the face of poverty, malnutrition and the temptations of tuck shops selling cheap junk food to hungry learners who want a sugar rush from the nearest fatcake or fizzy drink at break time.

Rich or poor, kids will be kids.

But in the face of such challenges, we found a number of schools across South Africa that are doing their best to turn the tables.

We met teachers who care deeply about the health and development of the children in their charge.

We learned more about the education department’s feeding schemes that provide a hot, nutritious meal each day to children who would otherwise go hungry.

We spoke to sports teachers, principals, tuckshop moms, school nutritionists and dozens of children themselves to hear their views on health, diet and exercise.

Without exception, the educators we spoke to agreed: children who have access to nutritious food and plenty of exercise are healthier, happier and wide awake in the classroom.

These are their stories.

Samkelo Nkosi (10) walks up the gentle slope from the classrooms toward a vendors’ table set up in the school yard at Tenteleni Primary in KaNyamazane, Mpumulanga.

Samkelo chooses three vetkoek and a piece of fried fish with atchar from the assortment of lollipops, Jiggies snacks and ice pops neatly arranged on the table. He walks back toward the classrooms with his substantial snack.

It’s 10am, and it’s time for lunch, which is served early to make sure that kids who come to school with empty stomachs get the fuel they need to see them through the day. The school caterers start to serve up samp and beans to the pupils.

Tenteleni benefits from the Mpumalanga education department’s feeding scheme, which provides a healthy lunch of vegetables, samp, rice and fish to its 1 090 pupils every day. However, it doesn’t seem to stop them going to the vendors’ table for extra supplies.

Ellah Seshaba (62), who cooks for the school, says the food is well prepared and requires a minimum of oil. “The department gives us a menu that we stick to.”

School principal Sizane Maseko says she has tried to discourage parents from giving their children money to bring to school but it’s a losing battle.

“Parents don’t co-operate and we decided to let the vendors into the school yard because otherwise the children go into the street. This is a safety precaution. The education department has held workshops with the vendors to encourage them to sell fruit, but seemingly they sell what the children want,” Maseko says.

Despite not having its own sports fields, Tenteleni manages to offer a variety of physical activities to its learners – including soccer, tennis, drum majorettes and traditional dancing throughout the academic year.

“We partner with former Model C schools whose staff impart coaching skills to our teachers,” says Maseko. “And we make use of what we have by dividing the sports ground into four portions to accommodate various sporting codes.”

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