President Jacob Zuma said during the 2012 State of the Nation address that over eight million learners benefit from government's school feeding scheme.
Sindiliwe Zandile Myiko (48) is one woman who knows exactly what the President is talking about.
When children start looking healthy at school, Myiko's heart starts to warm up for it's both her life and the lives of children that have changed since the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) begun.
The NSNP was introduced in 1994 and was previously known as the Primary School Nutrition Programme. In 2009, the programme was extended to Secondary Schools.In KwaZulu-Natal at least 5203 schools benefit from the NSNP and in the 2011/2012 financial year over two million learners have received meals at school on a weekly basis.
Myiko belongs to a women's cooperative in the Empangeni area, north of Durban. She with nine other women provides vegetables and other food to 12 schools so that children get meals for at least 16 to 21 days a month.
Before becoming involved in this project, Myiko was unemployed and tried to earn a living by planting vegetables in her garden.
In 2006, she received training in catering and the feeding scheme. And with the other women she received a loan of R280 000 to start a cooperative.
Thus far, 109 local women cooperatives have been established in the province to provide nutritious meals to feeding schools benefiting 617 members.
Job opportunities in the NSNP programme are also created through contracting different service providers in the form of SMME's.
According to the KZN Department of Education, in the current financial year, 1 757 SMME's have been contracted which has assisted immensely in empowering and nurturing business as well as operational skills to former disadvantaged women.
The NSNP has also during this period, recruited 9 587 voluntary food handlers who receive a monthly stipend of R640 per 300 learners.
The food handlers have been trained in different skills which include food preparation of NSNP menus, food safety, hygiene and other relevant skills in ensuring that the food that is provided to learners is of a required standard.
In total 11 961 people; the majority being women are benefiting through the NSNP. "Many of the children that receive the food are orphans or very poor, so it makes me very happy to see these children grow and look beautiful because of the food they receive," says Myiko.
Meanwhile, the Education Department has in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture identified community projects in five municipal wards in Umgungundlovu District to be enrolled as primary producers from which NSNP service providers in these areas can purchase vegetables. It is envisaged that similar projects will be rolled out throughout the province in 2013.
School menus should offer tasty and adequate meals which must fulfil at least 30 percent of the daily nutritional needs of learners per meal.
Government's objective with this initiative is to contribute to improving the learning capacity, promote self-supporting school food gardens and to promote healthy lifestyles amongst learners.
The selected menus should be socially acceptable and use of indigenous food in menus is encouraged.
"The NSNP has improved the majority of the lives of children who live in impoverished areas and were previously going to school hungry, and as consequence had reduced concentration and less enthusiasm to attend school," explains KZN Education department spokesperson Mbali Thusi.
"However, with the introduction of NSNP in the schools the following successes are notable, improved learner attendance during school feeding days and attentiveness in class and general cognitive development," adds Thusi.
The Department found that NSNP also improved nutritional status of children and helped reduce minor ailments that were attributed to malnutrition.
"Children who are from child-headed households who have NSNP meal as the only meal of the day are considerably sustained through the programme," says Thusi.
Children's interest in food production has also increased through NSNP school garden competitions that are held yearly.
NSNP contributes considerably to the economic empowerment of women mainly in its women cooperative project.
"More women who were poor and unemployed have now an opportunity to earn an average income to support their families, and others even managed to have a descent shelter for them and their children," says Thusi.
One cooperative in KZN bought a house for one of its members who did not have one, while another cooperative bought three vans for deliveries whilst the two have managed to purchase a truck and bakkie respectively. -BuaNews