Pre-primary school children in Embu County are set to benefit from a Ksh40 million school milk feeding programme launched by the County government, rekindling memories of free milk in primary school in the 1980’s and 90’s sponsored by President Moi. The milk programe targets about 17,000 pupils across the county, though some see it as a populist move by area governor to win votes in the August elections.
The programme was inspired by the collapse of a pupil at Witwa Primary School in the semi-arid Mbeere South Sub County, who fainted from hunger during a tour by education officials in 2014. The Nursery school pupil later confessed that he had not taken a meal for almost 24 hours.
The pupil was rushed to hospital following quick intervention by the officials where he was given a packet of milk was by a clinical officer which resuscitated him. Governor, Martin Wambora launched the programme at a colourful ceremony graced by education stakeholders, Kenya Dairy Board officials, milk processors and thousands of residents at Embu Stadium.
President Moi’s programme, which was popularly known as Nyayo milk, was meant to improve health of pupils and encourage school attendance. The milk packets captured various sporting events like running, boxing, netball, which was meant to inspire primary school children. Mombasa County also launched a similar programme for primary public schools in 2015.
Embu Education Executive Jamleck Muturi and Assembly Education committee chair Winrose Ngithi both said the fainting incident was an eye-opener for officials on how hunger was adversely affecting education among school going children. “The sad 2014 incident that almost caused the death of a child has been an eye opener. I will do whatever it takes to cope with malnutrition among children, specifically those in early childhood education ,” said Governor Wambora.
A survey by the health department reveals that 27 per cent of the children in ECDE centres are undernourished with majority having only one meal per day. He said the programme initially had two choices – milk or porridge. “Porridge was abandoned due to logistics involved, and we settled on Milk, which was considered a perfect choice because it provides the young learners with the much-needed balanced diet,”
He added that distribution of milk to the young learners will be done immediately to mitigate the effects of the drought currently being witnessed across the county. “We expect the programme to improve school access, retention and transition from one level to the next. It will also promote milk drinking culture among young children as well as promote market for locally processed milk,” he observed.
Dr Muturi said the programme is expected to have tremendous influence on the growth, development and learning ability of the young learners. He expressed confidence that this will be expanded in future with several donors having already expressed willingness to finance it. “We plan to set up a fund in future to enable us provide milk to all lower primary pupils,” said Dr Muturi.