Education and food

In our ‘World Beyond Georgetown’ feature last Sunday we focused on Providence, East Bank Demerara, a once small village, which is currently growing by leaps and bounds physically, being the location of the Guyana National Stadium, the Princess Hotel (formerly Buddy’s) and now a new housing scheme. However, on the human side, things are not quite as bright. Villagers spoke of gangs of young people menacing the area and disrespecting the older folk especially. Two concerned citizens lamented the high rate of truancy and school dropouts. One villager indicated that pupils were dropping out of school even before they completed the primary level and pointed to the fact that some children were never even enrolled in school. Another villager indicated that he had noticed the fact that children in the area, for the most part, only attended school on Thursdays—the one day when food was provided free of cost through the school’s feeding programme.

If a mere villager, who quite likely is a casual observer, can notice this, then surely, the teaching staff and administrators don’t need a torch to see the correlation between hunger and the truancy/dropout rate. In the ideal situation, there should be moves to increase the feeding programme to every day. More than likely, the school is unable to afford this. But perhaps approaches can be made to the Ministry of Education and to agencies and individuals for assistance.

Children with empty bellies cannot concentrate. More than that, if they have to be worried about where the next meal is coming from then going to school will fall off their short list of priorities. Clearly, their parents have none. If providing a free hot meal is going to keep children in school where they can develop their true potential, then every effort should be made to do so.

As a matter of fact, it is preposterous that any child should go hungry in Guyana, a country of just three-quarters of a million people or less and with such bountiful crops and other resources. It is a shame that children are going hungry when, on a daily basis, tonnes of spoilt perishable foods are dumped at the municipal and other markets.

In less than 1,000 days, the deadline would be reached for attaining the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set in 2000 by the United Nations and 189 countries, ours included. Through this broad, anti-poverty movement, described by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon as “the most successful in history”, eight of the worst blocks to human development in the world were expected to be either completely overcome or sufficiently curbed so as to ensure that the poorest of the poor, more particularly women and children, had equal access to life’s basic necessities – food, water, education and health.

Originally, the eight goals set would have seen the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; the achievement of universal primary education; promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women; reduction of child mortality; improvement in maternal health; combatting of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; the ensuring of environmental sustainability and the institution of a global partnership for development. With modifications, there has generally been enough ground covered for Mr Ban’s “most successful” tag to ring true.

However, it is the smaller, less noticeable, individual cases like the instance at Providence that cause concern, as well as the fact that this more likely than not is mirrored in other poor communities. The MDGs mean nothing to these children and their parents. For the children’s part, universal primary education would probably sound like a foreign language. They are more interested in being where they can get a hot free meal and on Thursdays, this happens to be at school. What if on Fridays that hot free meal and other things are available at a paedophile’s house or a drug dealer’s den? Does no one care?

As regards the parents of these truants/dropouts, they are probably mainly concerned with providing for the other six days. Or maybe not; perhaps they don’t care at all about whether their children eat, or where, or how; or whether they are educated. The ramifications of either attitude are dire both for the children and the society at large. It therefore falls to the society, especially the government, to do the best it can to forestall such eventualities by ensuring that the basic needs of its poorest are met. It would be cheating to proclaim this country as having achieved the first two MDGs when such situations still exist below the surface. There is much more that must and can be done.

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