Tendai Rupapa in BULAWAYO

CHILDREN in urban areas deserve to benefit from the ongoing nationwide school feeding programmes since food challenges brought by successive droughts affected the whole country, First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa has said.

In an interview on the sidelines of her feeding programme here yesterday, the First Lady said it was her role to ensure that children were well-nourished.

“We all know that the Government is doing all in its capacity to assist people in both rural and urban areas. As a mother and on behalf of my Angel of Hope Foundation, food prepared by a mother soothes and is satisfying. A mother’s presence in all processes makes things flow in a positive direction.

“I am not leaving behind children in urban areas because hunger affects everyone despite their physical location. Diseases are not selective, they affect all the children. As a mother, I will work hard to ensure that I will satisfy their nutritional requirements irrespective of where they live,” she said.

The First Lady is the country’s health ambassador with a passion for the welfare of children, women and other vulnerable groups.

Her intervention with the school feeding programme, which she emphasises was meant to complement ongoing Government efforts, has been an instant hit in Mashonaland East, Manicaland and Matabeleland South and North.

Plans are afoot to spread it to all provinces countrywide.

A strong-willed character with a hands-on approach, Amai Mnangagwa personally fed hundreds of children who gathered at McKurten Primary School.

It was an emotional moment when she fed, among many other pupils, Sibusiso Ncube who is epileptic and has cerebral palsy.

Sibusiso attends Sibantubanye Special School.

“May God be with her. I have never seen such kind of a woman who leaves the comfort of her home to bring cheer to the vulnerable and ensure their needs are catered for,” said a woman whose visually-impaired child was also fed by the First Lady.

The woman fought back tears as she spoke.

The children who attended yesterday’s feeding session were drawn from schools around Bulawayo Metropolitan.

In her address, the First Lady said there were 17  Sustainable Development Goals that were interlinked and designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better life for children.

“The overarching areas are five which mainly state that every child survives and thrives and should be protected from violence and any form of exploitation. Every child should live in a safe and clean environment and should have a fair chance in life.

First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa (above left) feeds Sibusiso Ncube who is epileptic and also has cerebral palsy during her schools feeding programme in Bulawayo yesterday. — Picture: John Manzongo

“It is unfortunate that Zimbabwe has experienced huge devastating problems that have seen her fighting hard to cover many areas that need urgent intervention. We are in a continued drought, we were also affected by Cyclone Idai and now we are in Covid-19, not forgetting that the sanctions given to Zimbabwe for the past two decades have heightened our plight as a country,” she said.

The First Lady said the country could not grow its economy if it did not export its products to other countries and this had seen families failing to buy food necessary to provide a balanced and adequate diet for the family.

“If overall nutritional intake is inadequate, specific deficiencies are more likely in the face of inadequate dietary intake. Nutritionally disadvantaged children suffer more frequently from health problems such as anaemia, weight loss, colds and many infections. Intake of insufficient food is associated with impaired growth and mental development,” she said.

In schools, the First Lady observed, nutritionally disadvantaged children had been shown to have higher rates of absence and learning impairment compared with their peers.

First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa feeds Aisha Sibanda who is visually-impaired during her schools feeding programme in Bulawayo yesterday. — Picture: John Manzongo

“Adverse effects in psychosocial functioning are normally seen in children who experience chronic hunger and these children lose concentration and it affects their social interaction with others. I am complementing efforts by Government in feeding our children in schools.”

The First Lady implored the people of Bulawayo to embrace Pfumvudza which guaranteed food self-sufficiency at household level.

“We are now in the time of Pfumvudza, let us not plant our maize once a year, but wherever there is access to water in order to make sure that our families never go hungry. Community gardens should be resuscitated so that our children can have nourishing food straight from the garden.

“I would like to implore the mothers of these children and all women in the community to continue with this initiative. It should not end here today which is why we have made you to be part of the feeding programme,” she said.

The Angel of Hope Foundation’s patron encouraged those in business to donate towards the worthy cause for the benefit of children in the communities in which they operate.

“We hope to have a mini granary to stock the ingredients where the mothers can take whatever is needed in preparing a meal for the young ones.

“Please support this initiative in our quest to fight hunger in schools, thereby creating a conducive learning environment,” she said.

Amai Mnangagwa expressed hope that the school feeding programme should be continued and said it was her wish that all children in the country were well fed and ready to learn and further donated maize seed, grain, maize meal, rice and cooking oil to schools for continuity of the programme.

The schoolchildren were also given exercise books.

She further reminded the nation not to lose guard and closely follow World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines to keep coronavirus at bay.

Bulawayo Provincial Affairs Minister Judith Ncube praised the First Lady for her vision in rolling out the school feeding programme.

“Mama, we welcome you to our province. The school feeding programme will go a long way in boosting the health of our learners. It will also boost the school attendance rate because a healthy mind is an alert mind. We are assured of improved pass rate and attendance rate,” she said.

A Ministry of Health and Child Care representative Sister Zolani Tapela said what the First Lady was doing helped cover the gap of malnutrition.

“Surveys show that there is hunger in Bulawayo with some households only managing one meal a day.

“Where there is no food in the home, it’s the mother and children who suffer a lot especially pregnant and lactating mothers. This programme is commendable and as the health sector we welcome this initiative,” she said.

Provincial education director Mrs Olica Kaira said: “Thank you Amai for committing your time for this worthy cause. This is a lesson to us all that a child in the community is everyone’s child because you are truly demonstrating the cultural idiom that ‘it takes a village to raise a child.”

The First Lady also held an interactive session with expecting mothers and those who are breastfeeding. Pregnant women were given preparation kits by the First Lady.

It was a first of its kind and rare meeting where the First Lady invited pregnant and lactating women to pose any questions to community health worker Sister Tapela.

The First Lady also asked questions for the benefit of pregnant women and made the atmosphere easy through cracking jokes.

She asked as to how many times a newborn should be fed and when.

Sister Tapela said breastfeeding should start in the first hour of birth, going up to two years.

The First Lady, who is sewing disposable diapers through her Angel of Hope Foundation, said they were in the process of making them and would donate some to pregnant women.

“I urge you all mothers to eat healthy, whole and nutritious food. Let us not shun our traditional foods as they help us prevent chronic illnesses such as cancer, obesity, heart and lung problems. This guarantees that the foetus has optimum growth.

“To the breast-feeding mothers, food such as roasted peanuts, spinach, sour porridge and maheu help increase milk production for our babies. Dried meat with peanut butter and mufushwa une dovi are rich sources of calcium and protein which are essential for bone development,” the First Lady said.

Advocating for good health is one of the flagship programmes under the First Lady’s Angel of Hope Foundation.

There were representatives from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development and the Women’s Bank who taught the women on financial literacy and income-generating projects.

Deputy Minister for Industry and Commerce Raj Modi also attended the event.