Senegal: sustainable canteens for an outstanding education

Last January, I participated in the nutrition training that we have carried out in the department of Dagana, in the north of Senegal, as part of the program “Reinforcement of livelihoods through a pilot project to promote local production, the introduction of high nutritional-quality food and respect for the environment in school canteens”, funded by the ECOWAS and the European Union.

With a slow pace but with a solemn attitude, the workshop participants arrive at the Medina Cherif school, which cedes its facilities. On the same day, the representatives of several schools met to take advantage of the resources and optimize the informative efforts of the project. Each school has selected its representatives: a small group composed by the school director, women from the canteen restoration committee (or school canteen), and women who transform grain into flour with their mill.

Today is Saturday, and many of the attendees have had to abandon or delegate responsibilities and travel several kilometers to participate in the training. But no one complains and everyone shows the desire to know more and to contribute to the good nutrition of the little ones, the better functioning of the school canteens (which has already proved a better performance among the students) and, therefore, to the development of their own communities.

After a long introduction of what the day holds for us (here is a fundamental part that no one skips), the local nutritionist addresses in detail the issues of the day: food shortages, nutritional properties of local products and the importance of a diversified diet.

This is a training of trainers (or multipliers), since the audience will later become disseminators of the message in other circles of influence, and thus the knowledge acquired will pass from one to the other.

After two intense days of workshops, where each restoration committee has prepared a weekly menu diversified but adapted to their specific reality, we have all agreed on the need to position school canteens in the center of community development, in the middle of an imaginary triangle formed by health institutions, educational institutions and networks of local producers (in their role as providers).

The participants are satisfied with the knowledge acquired, each school has shared its proposals and nobody keeps for himself the failures or the successes of past and current experiences; all have exchanged their views on improving child nutrition in schools, aware that the development of a community starts here and everyone has a share in it.

Thanks to the project, 15 schools in the north and 5 in the south of Senegal already have school canteens where students eat once a day.

by Pablo Elorriaga