School Food Program Falling Short in El Salvador

The school lunch line: a familiar scene? Not in every school.

Wait…there’s a school food program in El Salvador?? Well, yes and no. Recently (within the past few years, although I could not obtain the exact date of initiation), the government of El Salvador, through the Ministry of Education, launched a school snack program. It is called a “snack” program as opposed to breakfast or lunch because the majority of schools in this country have two sessions: a morning session, from around 7 until noon, and an afternoon session, from around 1 until 6. Students attend either the morning OR the afternoon session, not both. Teachers, of course, teach both sessions. And still the rooms are overcrowded and there are not enough resources for even a fraction of those students, or resources period. So, this government-sponsored food program would feed children either mid morning or mid afternoon, depending on the session the student attends. And not surprisingly, this is the best (and sometimes only) meal many of the students receive. A meal of beans and rice are served with a vitamin-fortified drink or just plain milk. That’s it. Fresh fruits and vegetables? Not so much, but there are calories and a bit of protein and carbohydrates – a good start, but certainly not the best.

Junk food is readily available at schools – what about healthy wholesome meals?

The Ministry of Education has recently announced that this new school feeding program to be a success (mission accomplished?), but apparently many schools are not receiving nearly enough food. Most schools in the department of Santa Ana receive three deliveries during the school year: one in March, another in June, and the final delivery at the beginning of October. (The nine-month public school year starts in March and ends at the close of November.) Many schools can only stretch the food deliveries to last a month, at best. One school in Santa Ana says their October delivery will probably last only until the 22nd of this month. The school year ends November 23rd. That means for one month, students will be going without their snack – a.k.a., daily meal. Teachers have reported that when there is food for the snacks, they see a dramatic change in the students. They are better behaved, have more focused energy, and exhibit less behavior problems. So when the food supply runs out, they see increased absenteeism, increased disruptions in class, and overall less enthusiastic kids. A hungry student is not a happy student, it’s that simple.

Snacks are sold at the schools – or right near the schools, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure – but these snacks are basically just golosinas – candies – or perhaps chips. They provide little in the way of sustenance for the student who buys them – if they can even afford to buy them. The best part about the school food program is that it does not discriminate: it is food available to every student who attends school, regardless of income. This does away with the stigma of getting “handouts” or other forms of charity that kids might shy away from for fear of ridicule by their classmates (yes, despite that a large percent of their classmates are in the same situation). This highlights the need for farm to school programs and school gardens. School yards are locked up when students leave, which would help protect the school garden, and the school garden itself could be part of the curriculum for the classes, and students can help with the labor. Finding land can be a problem, but most of the time some space is available within the school grounds. Or perhaps raised beds and other innovative and low-tech systems could be implemented to grow food on otherwise undesirable land. So many possibilities!!

(By the way, the Ministry of Education responded to the claims of too-little or undelivered foods by saying that the school directors had not properly filled out the correct forms letting them know how much food the students had eaten daily so they could then properly fill the orders….I guess the school directors didn’t get the memo about the necessary cover sheet for their reports….)

*Most information taken from an article from El Diario de Hoy, 16 October, 2011 by Emilia Pacheco.

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