A special intervention humanitarian programme targeting children in disadvantaged communities countrywide will be rolled out soon, amid reports that most of them are attending school on empty stomachs.

Successive droughts have not made the situation any better as most families do not have grain to sustain themselves, let alone surplus.

The cropping season is not looking good owing to a prolonged dry spell that has left crops showing signs of moisture stress, while some have wilted.

School feeding has a positive impact on attendance and learning outcomes as well as improving health.

It is against this background that First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa, who has a passion to make life bearable for the poor, convened a meeting yesterday with stakeholders to brainstorm about the schools feeding programme.

“As you already know, the current rainy season has not started so well and our country is facing the challenge of food and nutrition security. During my visits to different parts of the country, I have interacted with mothers and discussed many development topics with them, particularly the nutritional content of the food that they prepare for their families,” she said.

The First Lady said she was disturbed by the fact that most children, particularly in rural areas were going to school on empty stomachs and walking long distances, which affects their concentration and participation in physical education and sport.

She said while Government had introduced various food and nutritional programmes, there was room for other players to contribute as it was everyone’s duty to protect the vulnerable.

“After all, it takes a whole village to raise a child and the role of mothers, like myself, is very obvious. When statistics of malnutrition, stunting and their effect on the health and future of our children are discussed, it really touches my heart.

“My reason for inviting all of you here is to learn together and understand what challenges and programmes that are already being implemented on child nutrition so that each of us can identify where and how to contribute,” she said.

The Angel of Hope Foundation’s patron said she had a passion to promote indigenous foods of high nutritional value and spoke strongly against food waste.

Already, through her foundation, Amai Mnangagwa last year launched a supplementary feeding programme where she donated several tonnes of corn-soya blend porridge to alleviate malnutrition among children countrywide.

Apart from introducing nutritional gardens in various communities, the First Lady also buys vegetables as a way of empowering communities before drying them and handing them over to those in need.

Being a hands-on person, Amai Mnangagwa personally dries the vegetables and packages them.

In a bid to alleviate poverty and malnutrition in children, the First Lady recently introduced the Zunde ramambokadzi initiative to chiefs’ wives where she provided small grains which are drought-tolerant plus goat rearing projects set to benefit communities.

While long term solutions to the children’s requirements are being sought, the First Lady said for now there was need to focus on quick solutions to these urgent problems affecting school children.

She said she could not do it alone hence her passionate plea for well-wishers and others with means to chip in and widen the coverage of children in need.

Those who attended the function included Government officials, captains of industry, community leaders, religious groups, development partners, women and youths in business who applauded her for the initiative.

Representatives of the groups took turns to give insights into their ongoing humanitarian programmes and shared ideas on how they will partner Angel of Hope Foundation to feed schoolchildren.

Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, represented by Mrs Vaida Mashangwa, said administering a robust food and nutrition security school feeding programme was a guaranteed way of nurturing healthy women who are the bedrock of any prosperous and stable society.

“The support given by Amai takes this programme to higher levels and is a clarion call to action for those who may have been sitting on the fence with regards to supporting the feeding programme. The Ministry is geared to work with the First Lady and set up projects ensuring that the school feeding programme is a resounding success,” she said.

Mrs Wadzanai Nyanungo from the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education also commended the First Lady saying the initiative touched on the sustainable development goals aimed at ending poverty, hunger and encouraging partnerships.

The Ministry of Health and Child Care also pledged its support towards the worthy cause and promote healthy diet in schools.

Spar Zimbabwe, represented by Mr Moses Chihuri, pledged to partner the First Lady and drill boreholes at selected schools and start gardening projects while the Grain Millers Association of Zimbabwe and some businesses donated tonnes of maize meal and maheu.

Confederation of Zimbabwe Retailers president Mr Denford Mutashu said the programme’s success depended on every citizen.

Women and youths in business chipped in with skills training, peanut butter for the porridge and bricks for construction of the kitchens.

Zimbabwe’s top karateka Samson Muripo also attended the meeting and said he would assist in training schoolchildren on self defence and fitness.

Pepsi Zimbabwe, Dendairy, Cairns and National Foods pledged to support the programme.

A planning committee was set up and has already hit the ground running.

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