Guest Post: School Daze

I often ponder what the everyday reality is for the children here on the island of Utila. I know firsthand that many of them go to school hungry and don’t have any food or money for lunch at school. I can’t imagine what that is like on a daily basis…to go without food AND not know when the next time you will eat.

The only instance that I can remotely relate to is the time I embarked on The Master Cleanse. My goal was to go for 30 days, but I lasted only 4 DAYS. I couldn’t concentrate at work; I was super cranky; I had a continual headache; and ALL I COULD THINK ABOUT WAS FOOD.

Here is a great article that Co-Founder, Jeanne Perkins recently wrote about our Lunch Sponsor Initiative at Children of Utila. If you haven’t heard of Children of Utila, you can head over to our Facebook page “About” section and see how we got started and what we do as a nonprofit.

School Daze by Jeanne Perkins

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The children who attend Utila’s public school are largely very poor. Many come to school at 7am hungry, and begin their school day in a weakened fog, unable to  concentrate because their stomach is empty. Others, having ingested soda to take away the hunger, can’t focus for fidgeting and distracting their neighbor with their hyper energy.

The Food and Drink Fare

The school grounds have two pulperia’s, best described as small snack shacks that sell limited food items and drinks to the students. The eating and drinking habits of the poor are disheartening to teachers who have to deal with sugar-high kids who drink coke for breakfast, and chips and candy for lunch. The aforementioned items are plentiful in the pulperia’s and widely sold to the children at all hours of the school day. There are also two hot dishes, baleadas (soft taco with a smear of beans and grated white cheese), and pastelitos (also called empanadas, fried or baked pastries stuffed with sweet or savory fillings). The beverage choices for sale are sodas and juice bags called topogios.

School children lining up at snack shack on school grounds in Utila

School girls eating snacks during lunch break

Children of Utila

Our Children of Utila organization has a school lunch initiative that provides a hot lunch for hungry students. This 2013 school year, we have identified roughly 3 students from each class who need a meal provided to them. We are able to accomplish this through sponsors who “adopt a child” for the year. It costs about $1.53 per day or $40.00 per month to feed a student. The kids are in school six days a week this year.

Utila school boy holding baleada

Jill and I arrange with Dinora, the snack lady, to provide a lunch to the sponsored students and we pay her at the end of each week. We ask that Dinora give them hot food and a juice bag, instead of chips and soda. Last year, when a student was sponsored we included the siblings, thinking if one child in the family was hungry, so were the rest. We were enlightened this year by one of the teachers who told us that the families become too dependent on the food and get complacent. We were told that having one child in the family fed is a big help and they are more able to feed the remaining siblings. We have taken this advice and try to feed the oldest child in the family who is usually the biggest eater.

Utila school kids ordering food at school pulperia

Better Nutrition

We would like to provide healthier food on the school grounds in the future. Oatmeal is an ideal solution for giving children good nutrition that is fairly inexpensive to buy and provides a steady dose of energy to carry them through the morning. We will work to substitute soda for a juice that doesn’t have sugar as the top 1 or 2 ingredients. Nixing soda will be hard sell since most children will choose Coke over all drinks in Utila. The Coke addiction among the poor reminds me of the comment the local dentist made to me when I had my teeth cleaned here. As she initially examined my mouth, she said, “Oh, you have all your teeth.” The Coca-Cola formula in Central America is sweeter than in the States, so cutting back on the sweet drink will have multiple benefits. Nutrition is a key component to good learning and we know that without it, much of what is accomplished at the school is for naught if the children cannot focus in the classroom.

How well do you concentrate when you are hungry?

3 boys sitting down on the walkway eating lunch at school in Utila, Honduras at the public school

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