Healthy Nutri­tion Spreads in El Sal­vador’s Schools

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Eat­ing healthy and nu­tri­tious food in schools in El Sal­vador is an ef­fort that went from a pilot plan to a well-en­trenched pro­gramme that has now taken off.

The Sus­tain­able Schools pro­gramme, ini­tially launched in 2013 in three schools in the ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Atiquizaya, in the western de­part­ment of Ahuachapán, sur­passed ex­pec­ta­tions and has now been repli­cated in all 22 schools in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity, and in many oth­ers in the coun­try.

“With the 10 menus that we have im­ple­mented here, we have changed the stu­dent’s ex­pec­ta­tions about meals,” the di­rec­tor of the Pepenance District Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­tre, José Antonio Tes­pan, told IPS be­fore this year’s first par­ent-teacher assem­bly.

That in­sti­tu­tion is one of the three where the pro­gramme started, and over time be­came the flag­ship of the ini­tia­tive.

Now it has been im­ple­mented in 10 of El Sal­vador’s 14 de­part­ments, and in­cludes 40 of the coun­try’s 262 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and 215 of the more than 3,000 schools in the ru­ral area, ben­e­fit­ing some 73,000 stu­dents.

The project has had from the start tech­ni­cal sup­port from the United Na­tions Food and Agri­cul­ture Or­gan­i­sa­tion (FAO), and fi­nanc­ing from the Brazil­ian gov­ern­ment. And al­though it of­fi­cially ended in De­cem­ber 2017, it will con­tinue be­cause of its suc­cess.

“There was a par­a­digm shift and a sus­tain­able school model was de­vel­oped in Atiquizaya, it was a plea­sure for FAO to have ac­com­pa­nied them,” the U.N. agency’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive in El Sal­vador, Alan González, told IPS.

El Sal­vador is part of a group of 13 coun­tries in the re­gion that, since 2009, have taken part in an ini­tia­tive ex­e­cuted by FAO and the Brazil­ian gov­ern­ment, ex­tend­ing the pro­gramme of sus­tain­able schools, adapt­ing the achieve­ments of that South Amer­i­can coun­try’s Na­tional School Feed­ing Pro­gramme.

This Cen­tral Amer­i­can na­tion of 6.5 mil­lion peo­ple faces se­ri­ous so­cioe­co­nomic prob­lems, and child mal­nu­tri­tion has never been erad­i­cated.

Chronic mal­nu­tri­tion in El Sal­vador was around 14% in 2014, in chil­dren un­der five, ac­cord­ing to that year’s Na­tional Health Sur­vey, the most re­cent. That ex­ceeds the Latin Amer­i­can av­er­age, which is 11.6%, ac­cord­ing to 2015 data from the World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

The stu­dents ben­e­fit­ing from the ini­tia­tive re­ceive a mid-morn­ing snack, made with prod­ucts pur­chased from farm­ers in the area, as part of the “lo­cal pur­chases” com­po­nent, a key as­pect of the project.

“In ad­di­tion to en­sur­ing a nu­tri­tious diet for our stu­dents, at the same time we are strength­en­ing the lo­cal econ­omy,” said Tes­pan, the di­rec­tor of the school in Pepenance, home to 3,225 of the 34,000 in­hab­i­tants of the 67-sq-km mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Atiquizaya, which en­com­passes 13 dis­tricts (vil­lages or small towns).

The school’s cook, 46-year-old Rosa Delmy Fa­jardo, a na­tive of Pepenance, mixes fruits, veg­eta­bles, and

eggs with en­thu­si­asm. Her meals have achieved the ap­proval of the stu­dents.

She said that of the 10 menus, there was one she had never seen or tasted, the so-called “Chi­nese rice”, based on that grain, to which is added an egg cake, cut into pieces.

“When I make that, they eat ev­ery­thing, and there are chil­dren who ask their mothers to make them Chi­nese rice,” she said.

She added that she has been in charge of the school kitchen for 11 years, but has worked three years un­der FAO nu­tri­tional guide­lines.

Be­fore that, the menu was less nu­tri­tious, since it only had sta­ples such as oil, rice, beans, sugar and milk.

“Now we have ev­ery­thing that is needed for the food to have an­other touch,” Fa­jardo said.

The suc­cess achieved in Pepenance was re­flected in Novem­ber when it be­came a fi­nal­ist for the Banco do Brasil Foun­da­tion Award, in the in­ter­na­tional cat­e­gory.

The award pro­motes low-cost sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment ini­tia­tives with a ma­jor so­cial im­pact that in­volve com­mu­nity par­tic­i­pa­tion. The cat­e­gories are aligned with the 17 Sus­tain­able De­vel­op­ment Goals (SDGS) pro­moted by the UN’S 2030 Agenda.

“I am over­joyed about this award, for me it is a great achieve­ment, and I feel proud,” added Fa­jardo.

Mean­while, the mayor of Atiquizaya, Ana Luisa Ro­dríguez, said she felt happy and moved by the recog­ni­tion ob­tained in Brazil, and hoped it would bring more ben­e­fits to strengthen the pro­gramme.

“This gives us the op­por­tu­nity to open new doors with other de­ci­sion-mak­ers to pro­mote more in­te­gral projects… there are fam­i­lies who want a school gar­den, so we’re start­ing a project of fam­ily gar­dens in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity,” she said in a con­ver­sa­tion with IPS.

For the mayor, part of the key to the suc­cess ob­tained in Pepenance has been the work co­or­di­nated with all the ac­tors and agen­cies that have been work­ing to­wards the same end.

“Hav­ing achieved this in­ter­sec­toral col­lab­o­ra­tion was mo­men­tous: the par­ents got in­volved in the con­struc­tion of a store­house, kitchen and din­ing room, and they were also em­pow­ered, they are part of the project,” she said.

For his part, the FAO’S González stressed that “in Atiquizaya the in­volve­ment by the com­mu­nity and lo­cal ac­tors was vi­tal” in achiev­ing the re­sult ob­tained.

In Septem­ber 2017, FAO regional rep­re­sen­ta­tive Julio Berdegué vis­ited Pepenance for a first-hand view of the achieve­ments ob­tained, and stressed that the small Sal­vado­ran com­mu­nity’s ac­com­plish­ments are an ex­am­ple to be repli­cated in other coun­tries.

Credit: Edgardo Ay­ala / IPS

FAO Regional Rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Latin Amer­ica and the Caribbean Julio Berdegué vis­ited the ru­ral school in Pepenance, in western El Sal­vador, which has be­come a model in healthy eat­ing, within El Sal­vador’s pro­gramme of sus­tain­able schools.

Credit: Edgardo Ay­ala / IPS

Stu­dents of the Pepenance District School in the mu­nic­i­pal­ity of Atiquizaya, in western El Sal­vador, pose for pic­tures in front of one of the nu­tri­tious daily meals of­fered to the stu­dents, which are made with prod­ucts from lo­cal farm­ers.

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