Uganda: School feeding program increasing Batwa pupil enrollment
Most Batwa communities in the East Africa region live in impoverished conditions.
And for a community that has been almost entirely dispossessed of their land by the government due to national conservation policies and is facing eminent extinction, education would rank least on their priority list. That is why in all national development indicators, they rank lower than national averages.
One of these indicators is education. For instance, it’s only fairly recently that the Batwa in Uganda celebrated a first mutwa graduate with a diploma. This sad situation is exacerbated by the discrimination Batwa generally face from neighboring majority communities. Batwa children face an uphill task putting up with bullying at school due to lack of basic school items like uniforms and shoes which their parents can’t afford.
An education project implemented by Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in collaboration with community based organizations in 20 schools in the districts of Kabale, Kisoro and Kanungu with support from Sylvia Adams Trust and Allan & Nesta Ferguson Trust seems to be averting this sad situation.
The one-year project funds the provision of lunch, scholastic materials and uniforms to Batwa children enrolled in Universal Primary Education schools in Kisoro, Kabale and Kanungu districts. It also supports parents of school going Batwa children with agricultural tools (hoes and pangas), seeds and fertilizers so that they can plant food to feed their children.
Seven months into the project, enrollment of Batwa children has more than doubled. “The moment word went around that there was free lunch, uniforms, shoes for all Batwa school-going children, parents registered their children in the middle of the school term,” Peninah Zaninka, the Coordinator of United Organisation for Batwa Development, a Batwa community organization, said, adding: “It is clear they want to be in school but there are conditions prohibiting them from doing so.”
For instance, in Biraara Primary School in Kisoro district, out of a total enrollment of 388 pupils (183 males and 205 females), 47 are Batwa pupils. While in Mukungu Primary School with a total enrollment of 146 pupils, 63 are Batwa.
The head teachers of both schools report a reduction in absenteeism and escapism during lunch before the start of the feeding programme to 10 percent from a high of 90 percent. There is also a reported increase in concentration of pupils in class. The area District Education Officer, Mr. Francis Munyarubanza, said all teachers are motivated when teaching ‘well fed, attentive children.’
Asked what will happen to the Batwa pupils since this is a one-year pilot project, Peninah was uncertain of the future. “At least we have demonstrated to local leaders that the stereotype that Batwa hate education is false. They have to put in place the basic conditions that give incentive to the children to want to go to school,” she says.
According to Felicien Balikunda, MRG’s Capacity Building Officer, who visited the project sponsored schools and interacted with the teachers and area local leaders, the positive impact of the project is visible. “You could not easily tell a Mutwa pupil from the majority because they were all confident and smartly dressed in school uniform with shoes and socks,” Felicien said. “This is unlike before when you would easily tell a Mutwa from the rest; no shoes, dirty and without a uniform.”
What was perhaps most striking according to Felicien was the revelation from the community that as a result of the school feeding programme, theft of food items from gardens had reduced. Asked why, Felicien said; “because now pupils don’t have idle time to loiter around and also they are getting food at school.”
Click on image for larger view