First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa wipes sweat from a pupil as she eats during her schools feeding programme at Tongwe High School in Matabeleland South yesterday

FIRST LADY Auxillia Mnangagwa and her Angel of Hope Foundation yesterday came face-to-face with hunger and a host of other welfare challenges affecting the people of Matabeleland South and Matabeleland North, while rolling out a feeding scheme for school children.

Matabeleland North is one of the most food insecure provinces in Zimbabwe and statistics show that the provincial capital, Lupane, has the highest malnutrition rate nationally, with at least one in three children in the district showing signs of stunting.

In Matabeleland South, the economy is largely centred around subsistence farming and livestock production, but recurrent droughts have resulted in widespread hunger.

This is why yesterday’s visit by the First Lady, who is the country’s health ambassador, brought smiles to Tongwe villagers in Beitbridge because it showed they were loved and that she was prepared to solve some of the challenges they face on a daily basis.

Women from surrounding communities described Amai Mnangagwa as an “angel of hope” the nation could rely on in times of trouble because of her tangible solutions to a wide range of issues that affect people.

Mrs Kiratilwe Moyo further praised her for her timely intervention.

“This programme being initiated by the First Lady is essential,” she said.

“Without a mother nothing positive happens and the children were so happy to be fed by her while at the same time she got an appreciation of what is lacking in these children. A mother knows her children’s needs and she assessed their needs, today she is here feeding them.

“Our mother has rolled out a programme which unites us all with a goal to feed our children despite political or religious background. This area does not get good rains and the crops do not reach maturity because of the scorching sun.

“Hunger affects concentration and all the efforts by teachers to impart knowledge in the children will not yield results. Therefore, this programme is commendable.”

Many families here are food-insecure owing to an extreme drought experienced in the county last season.

This had exposed a large number of children to hunger, amid revelations that many were skipping lessons owing to the scarcity of food.

First Lady takes feeding programme to Matabeleland
First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa interacts with expecting mothers after she gave them preparation kits in Matabeleland South Province yesterday. — Pictures: John Manzongo

“Our area is very dry and the little farming we did last year did not yield much,” said Gogo Miriam Mavoleke.

“Many children were going to school without food and there are some who were dropping out because there was no food at home.

“We appreciate the school feeding programme which will provide our children with a daily meal. Today we have seen the First Lady coming, which is going to be a huge boost for the children and motivate them to attend school.”

Matabeleland South Provincial Affairs Minister Abedinico Ncube agreed as much that his province was food-insecure and thanked the First Lady for sparing a thought for his people.

“I want to thank you Amai for your unwavering support and commitment,” he said.

“You show dedication for the development of our nation. You always exhibit motherly care and we applaud the noble initiative.

“Our children are our future and it is our duty to protect them. I encourage everyone to take a leaf from Amai in supporting vulnerable groups and communities. We welcome you Amai to our province.”

Beitbridge West legislator Mrs Ruth Mavhungu Maboyi showered the First Lady with praises for her intervention.

“Nothing grows here because of water challenges,” she said.

“All they grow does not get into the granaries because the agricultural produce cannot even fill a bucket. We are grateful Amai for this feeding programme because there is hunger here. Water for drinking is also a challenge.

“Keep on remembering us because we no longer have cattle nor goats because of drought. We thank you for coming through your deep love which has united us.”

The First Lady was touched by the plight of the people of Tongwe and said she will do all that she can to assist.

“I am back again and I have come for our children,” she said.

“In our culture, a mother has to run around and see to it that the children are well-fed. A mother unites her children and I have come to strengthen unity among you.

“My main aim is for our children to eat healthy. The young ones are at a critical stage where their bodies are still growing. Maintaining a balanced diet is important, especially for children who are still going to school.

“Poor nutrition compromises the children’s potential in education. This is because if they go to school hungry, their minds will be restricted and not functioning well. Stunting in children is visible. We are fighting very hard for our children to have food so that they flourish in their studies.”

The Angel of Hope Foundation patron said her visit complements what Government was already doing and encouraged women to press ahead with efforts to ensure their children had access to nutritious food to grow healthy.

“My coming here complements what Government is doing in schools,” she said. “I have also come so that other mothers are encouraged to do the same and see the importance of feeding children. I understand the issue of climate change here and what the local MP said.

“The challenges you are facing here, the President is aware of them and working on it, but I will still take the message to him. As a mother, I will continue reminding the President of the challenges you have told me of.”

She added: “It is important for mothers to feed children with nutritious food like dried vegetables, vegetables with peanut butter, and sorghum sadza which are more healthy than oily food.

“I have come to ignite the flame and it is now your duty as mothers to keep the fire burning. I know we are faced with many problems like the shortage of food and water. I will work with your local MPs and on their behalf, I will request humbly from the department of social welfare to send food here.”

The First Lady made available maize seed, which she said could be grown using irrigation facilities in the community. She also brought grain for schools for continuity of the programme.

“This is a semi-arid region and we are encouraged to grow traditional grains,” said the First Lady. “What I have done here, feeding the children, will continue, but through the Government. It is my wish as a mother to see all the children well fed. I want to thank the parents who have come and I think you have learnt that we should all work together for our children.” The First Lady encouraged pregnant women to eat healthy, while breastfeeding mothers were urged to eat food that assists in milk production.

She donated maize-meal, maize seed for schools, maheu, cooking oil, beans, grain and exercise books to be shared among schools.

She also gave rice for the community and new born baby preparation kits for expecting mothers.

A hands-on person, the First Lady braved the scorching heat and prepared food for thousands of children drawn from schools in the province.

She prepared and served the food with the assistance of Beitbridge East legislator Albert Nguluvhe and other men and women from the community.

Provincial Education director Mr Lifias Masukume thanked the First Lady for her unending support towards the school feeding programme, which is already running smoothly in provinces like Mashonaland East and Manicaland where it was introduced earlier.

Matabeleland South is semi-arid province which receives very little rainfall annually, making crop production a nightmare.

The situation becomes dire in times of drought. The school feeding programme ensures that pupils stay healthy and concentrate on their studies to improve their welfare.

Previously, some children were pulling out of school owing to food challenges.

In Lupane in Matabeleland North, a villager from Ngombane, Ms Sehlile Moyo, said the feeding programme will help in complementing the few meals she can afford to give her four school-going children.

The 35-year-old farmer said she relied on Government for free grain and vegetables from a small garden for food.

“I am happy because for once, my children will have food at school which will keep them happy and motivated because I could not even afford to pack a packet of maputi for their lunch or tea break,” she said.

“The erratic rainfall patterns left many of us without food and a source of income and we are glad that at least for now we will only stress about supper since our children will be eating wholesome meals at school.

“To tell the honest truth, we can only afford isitshwala and green vegetables, a combination which is not really a balanced meal. We are glad that our children will have access to protein-based meals at school so that they do not suffer from any nutrition deficiencies.”

According to Lupane District medical director Dr George Mutizira, the acute malnutrition rate stands at 5,7 percent, while about 2,7 people suffer from severe acute malnutrition.

As a result, he said, the community was at high risk of malnutrition, especially the vulnerable groups of lactating women and children under five years.

These challenges have often demotivated school going children who are also expected to walk long distances to and from school in search of education.

In the midst of all these hindrances, the feeding scheme launched yesterday at Ekusileni Primary School will see pupils in the province access well balanced meals in schools  a great motivation to keep them focused on their studies as means to a brighter and more developed Zimbabwe.

For Amai Mnangagwa, mothers must not only pack snacks for their children, but should go back to basics and give them nourishing traditional foods which have been proven to reduce diseases and also boost intelligence.

“Foods such as dried vegetables with peanut butter (mufushwa), sadza remhunga, rezviyo, remapfunde, sweet potatoes and madora or amacimbi are all better than a bag of chips and white bread,” she said in a speech read on her behalf by Provincial Affairs Minister Richard Moyo.

Dr Mutizira said ensuring pupils were fed in schools will lead to a decrease in school drop-outs.

The First Lady’s school feeding programme, is being rolled out across the country’s provinces to ensure every child benefits.

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