Amai Auxillia Mnangagwa prepares sadza during her schools feeding programme in Chimanimani yesterday. — Pictures: John Manzongo
MOTHERS and community leaders here have roundly praised the school feeding scheme being rolled out countrywide by First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa and her Angel of Hope Foundation, saying it will help reduce cases of children dropping out of school due to hunger, which affects their health and concentration.
The programme will benefit thousands of school-going children in Manicaland province, thereby helping them maintain their immune systems and provide energy for activity, growth, and all functions of the body.
The First Lady is the country’s health ambassador hence her intervention, which saw her launching the national schools feeding programme in Mashonaland East last week.
As the mother of the nation, she ensures that citizens have access to healthcare, food and shelter regardless of political affiliation.
Amai Mnangagwa’s programme also helps fulfil the Sustainable Development Goal 2, which aims to “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture”.
To show their appreciation for the programme, by the time the First Lady and her entourage arrived, the women had already lit the fire and were ready to assist in whatever way they could to make the feeding programme a success.
The women were resplendent in clean aprons that matched with headgears sewn by the First Lady to ensure the highest standards of hygiene were maintained. Christmas came early for those who attended yesterday’s event as they were served stewed beef, dried vegetables with peanut butter, cabbage, sadza and rice which was prepared by the First Lady and women drawn from various communities.
Mrs Beauty Chisiya said she was overwhelmed with joy because of the First Lady’s intervention which comes at a time when her community was still grappling with the effects of Cyclone Idai, which left a trail of destruction and killed hundreds of people.
The cyclone destroyed fields, making people here start life afresh, hence the significance of the First Lady’s intervention.
“We felt encouraged by the programme initiated by the First Lady. We were affected by Cyclone Idai which left us with no fields to plant crops and when our children leave for school, they spend the whole day there and eat there.
“We fully embrace the First Lady’s mission because we were facing food challenges. She is also helping pregnant women,” she said with a voice filled with emotion.
Mrs Ellan Simango from Ward 16 was also elated.
“As women we volunteered to come and help Amai with the cooking for the children who have gathered here. I thank Amai Mnangagwa for this noble initiative. She visits us all countrywide and is not selective. She loves everyone. Food challenges worsened from the time the Covid-19 restrictions were put in place. The programme also teaches us how best to care for our children. It also teaches us to treat others well just like the First Lady does.”
Another woman said she was happy that the First Lady had given her community a sense of belonging.
“We have seen that the First Lady really loves us. Even our children are surprised that such good things can happen. We hope she keeps on remembering us and come back to visit us here. This is a first of its kind,” said the woman.
To sustain this initiative, Amai Mnangagwa provided maize seed for Pfumvudza farming, grain, rice, cooking oil and other essential commodities to 20 schools within the province.
She also provided school shoes and clothes for the underprivileged children.
Each school received maize-meal, text books and exercise books from the First Lady. Pregnant women were all smiles as they were given newborn preparation items while the community also received rice and maize seed with a special focus on intensifying farming activities and improve food security at household level.
Addressing the gathering, the First Lady assured the people of Chimanimani that she will always have them in her heart.
Immediately after the disaster struck, she mobilised food and utensils for the people here through her “Poto Nendiro” initiative to make members of the community find their feet after the devastating cyclone.
“I recall my last visit here was after we lost our relatives in the Cyclone Idai disaster where I expressed my wish to get an opportunity to visit you again,” said Amai Mnangagwa.
“Today I have returned focusing on young children. We understand that at household level, mothers run around looking for what meals they can prepare for the children. In this vein, I have come to prepare a meal for my children and eat with them.
“As you know, young children cannot withstand hunger which makes some of them refuse to go to school. I have therefore brought food to help children go to school in their numbers.”
The First Lady acknowledged that schools will receive other children who were not attending classes owing to food challenges since they will be assured that they will get enough food to keep health and eager to learn.
“The food we are preparing for them today gives them good health which sharpens their minds and enables them to listen to their teachers.
“Looking at the growth of their bodies, these children will grow in line with their ages as expected by health experts.”
She said by engaging community women, she aimed at ensuring continuity. The First Lady noted that the feeding programme was critical to ensure high retention and performance ratios in schools.
“If we put our heads together from local businesspeople and farmers with the aim of feeding our children, this will be easy,” she said.
She implored members of the community to keep the feeding programme running and make everyone appreciate the importance of such an initiative to child development.
“Here in Manicaland we are blessed because we get good rains annually and good climatic conditions which allow for good harvests and enable us to grow various crops. As I have mentioned earlier on, giving our children good food helps them grow strong. Being happy to attend school helps spur development in our areas,” she said.
After the interactive session, she posed questions to the gathering aimed at educating mothers on this initiative.
Amai Mnangagwa also had an opportunity to warn children against yielding to peer pressure and to avoid activities that may haunt them for life.
Manicaland Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Dr Ellen Gwaradzimba was happy to host the First Lady in her province.
“Amai we love you so much. It’s a rare opportunity to see the mother of the nation venturing into remote areas to meet her children. During the Cyclone Idai disaster you came here endlessly. “You brought an assortment of goods to assist those who were affected by the disaster. Amai you have amazing energy. You show us love, you do not select your children and for that we praise you,” she said.
Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister, Dr Sithembiso Nyoni, who was represented by Mrs Hedwig Mukuze, was grateful for the roll-out of the nationwide feeding programme.
“We appreciate this programme through which the First Lady is making it possible for every child to attend school while fed and reduce the number of dropouts caused by hunger.
“Some children are escaping hunger and rushing to get married which often ends in many challenges, but through such programmes such challenges will end,” she said.
Representing the Ministry of Health and Child Care, Dr Nyadundu said it was important to give children energy-giving food.
“We want to thank Amai for this programme. Expecting mothers should also be given nutritious food and today they have been remembered by the First Lady. “The First Lady always leaves a mark wherever she goes,” said Dr Nyadundu to thunderous applause.
A representative of the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education said the feeding programme will boost children’s participation in sporting activities. “Participation of children in sports will rise because some did not commit themselves because of hunger. Some would develop kwashiorkor. We also promote even nutrition garden projects in schools,” she said.
Chimanimani East legislator, Joshua Sacco, said: “Your programme is important Amai because the moment you came, hunger disappeared. We are grateful.”
The First Lady’s initiative will be replicated across other provinces to benefit thousands of vulnerable children and expecting mothers.