Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June 22nd, 2010

Today was amazing! We finally started completing our research project and traveled to a local nursery - standard 8 school, to begin questioning the staff about the school lunch program and the porridge that is given to the children in the morning. All of the 5 schools we are working with provide a githeri lunch to their students, and two of these schools (including the one we went to today) also provide porridge in the morning. Farmers Helping Farmers is currently working with the school we went to today, called Kinyenjere to provide milk to make the porridge with. Our job as the nutrition team is to evaluate both the porridge and the githeri recipes, to analyze the recipes and to assess how much nutrition they are providing the students based on the portion given, and how the nutrition content of these recipes can be improved by using the resources they have and the school gardens that are already in place.

At Kinyenjere today, we talked to the porridge and lunch coordinators, the headmaster, teachers, students and the cook to try to figure out what the recipe was. Since they are cooking for 240 students at this school, the quantities of each ingredient were several kgs. The problem is, they don’t exactly weight ingredients. They have containers that were once weighed and shown to be a Kg of something, and are assuming that if this container is a kg of flour, its also a kg of beans, despite the different densities of the foods. So once we had the basic recipes for the meals, we weighed the perceived kg of each ingredient to determine how accurate their measurements were. The only reason we did this was so that we could accurately analyze the recipes for their nutrient content, not because we wanted to alter their recipes.

Although this sounds like an easy task that requires nothing more then asking a few of the right questions, it’s really hard to get the right answer. If you ask the same question 3 times, you are likely to get 3 different answers, and every person you talk to answers differently. You also have to be careful how you phrase the question, because if you ask a question that can be answered in yes, the only answer you get will be yes. The language barrier doesn’t help. Although English and Swahili are the two national languages, Swahili is spoken much more frequently. Most understand English, but you must speak slowly and clearly. The other issue we ran into was figuring out portion sizes. We were told that the younger children get a smaller portion of food by one person and that they were getting the same portion of food as the older kids by another. Obviously there will be some flaws in our data but we’re trying to be as accurate as possible, and with nutrition recalls and recipe evaluation, all you can do is try your best to eliminate any sources of error.

The children in these schools are amazing. They absolutely love when we visit because they get a break from school. The further away from home you get, the more you realize that we are all the same. Kids are kids no matter where you go. The boys are beating each other up, the little kids are running around chasing each other, and they all want their picture taken. Stepping into the schoolyard ar a white person is like stepping on a beehive, you are instantaneously swarmed by children asking you questions and holding your hand and wanting attention. Everywhere you go, you are surrounded by 30 little kids who keep touching your skin in an attempt to figure out how it can be so different than their own. These kids are so bright, and love to show off their workbooks where they have written English words and arithmetic equations. When you walk into a classroom, they all stand up and say good morning in unison, and stay standing until you give them permission to sit. When they sit, they all say “thank you teacher’ in unison.

It’s really fun to go to the schools, but it can get extremely overwhelming very quickly. I am not used to having a million kids surrounding me all the time. Specially when you have 20 kids hanging onto you hands and arms in an attempt to touch white skin.

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