It’s back-to-school time for South Africa’s children, and for thousands more, the very first day of their school careers.
While this is a time of excitement and new beginnings, for millions of children this significant year’s milestone will be marred by hunger. The reality is that over 3.2 million children will go to school hungry on their first day at school.
The recently released South African Child Gauge 2017 report states that the number of children living below food poverty stands at 5.5 million, which equates to more than half of South Africa’s children living in poverty.
According to The South African Demographic Health Survey, 27 per cent of children under five is stunted. Stunted growth is considered a strong marker of severe malnutrition that has proven to impair cognitive development.
Thabisa Mkhwanazi, KFC’s public affairs director for Africa, said these figures serve as a worrying prediction for the country’s children.
“Beyond having an impact on cognitive development, being hungry each day has been seen to lead to feelings of anxiety and withdrawal from social interaction.”
Mkhwanazi said there is solid proof that children who are not sufficiently nourished are at risk of falling behind their school peers.
“Unfortunately, these hungry children who fall behind early on often struggle to catch up to their peers throughout their school careers. Ultimately, this will have a profound effect on a young adult’s future prospects.”
Mkhwanazi spear-headed the Add Hope initiative, which harnesses the R2 public donations, and corporate social responsibility funds, to fight hunger. Add Hope supports over 138 NGOs that are dedicated to by providing meals to 120 000 children across South Africa. A growing list of 138 organisations across South Africa strive daily, meal by meal, to equip pre-schoolers and school goers – and even their families – with the nutrition they need to succeed.
Mkhwanazi says that each child who indicates positive growth is viewed as a long-term win.
The private sector and civil society are playing a key role in providing nutritional interventions for South African children.
“South Africa’s primary healthcare budget has a meagre 0.5 per cent dedicated allocation towards nutrition which makes it critical for intensive support beyond what government is providing. We need to ensure that each of these children has a full tummy at school so that they can fulfil their promise as the 2018 school year kicks off.”
Mkhwanazi concluded that the beginning of the school year is a critical moment in the lives of children. She suggested that each child should have the opportunity to enter school adequately nourished so as to be able to engage, learn and positively interact, both in the classroom and playground settings from day one.