A moving visit to northern Kenya gives Joanna from our policy and impact team a greater appreciation of the power of pre-school meals.

In my role as policy and impact officer, I am constantly amazed by the difference Mary’s Meals’ is making around the world.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to visit Turkana in northern Kenya to conduct research with some of the littlest children in our global family. Turkana is a vast, mostly arid landscape and daily life can be extremely tough. The Turkana people live a largely nomadic lifestyle drawing on expertise passed down through generations to survive the harsh climate.

 In Turkana, Mary’s Meals supports pre-school children at nurseries, known as early childhood development (ECD) centres. The children often walk long distances in considerable heat to attend these pre-schools.

 One visit that stands out was Lochodo ECD, a very rural pre-school. When we arrived, the children were gathered under the tin shelter they use as a classroom, busy learning numbers with their teacher. We wanted to find out how many of them had eaten breakfast that morning, so we handed out crayons and worksheets with a plate printed on them and asked the children to draw their last meal.

A big tree cast a large shadow over the hot sandy ground and we watched as the children sat underneath, taking great care and pleasure over their worksheets. With few materials to hand, teachers and caregivers in Turkana get very creative with their teaching methods, often using rocks, branches and drawings in the sand to teach letters and numbers. They were delighted to see children in their class drawing with paper and crayons!

The children took great pride in describing the food they’d drawn and when they had eaten this meal. We discovered that only one of the children in our group had eaten breakfast. All the others arrived in school that morning on an empty stomach.

 Soon after these conversations, volunteers served up the meal of maize and beans and hungry tummies became full. I was very thankful for Mary’s Meals that day.

It’s clear that Lochodo ECD is a place in need of Mary’s Meals. What happens during a child’s early years is crucial for their future development. Lack of adequate nutrition can have a serious negative impact on physical and cognitive growth. The environment in Turkana is extremely challenging but Mary’s Meals is helping to offset some of those challenges by providing young children with a nutritious meal that helps them learn and grow.

Over the coming years, we hope to grow our feeding program in Turkana too, so that even more pre-school children can enjoy a life-changing daily meal in their place of education.