‘FOOD, CULTURE & HERITAGE – food that reflects you!’

Mouhamed Bodian is a 5th grade student at Ngnith Elementary School in Senegal. His favorite subject is science and when he is not studying, he loves to play soccer and handball with his friends. Before Counterpart International came to work in his community, Mouhamed only ate once a day, leaving him little energy to focus on school – much less play sports with his friends. Now, thanks to Counterpart’s school meals program, generously funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, he eats at least twice a day.

Group meal served for the celebration

The Counterpart team is in Senegal this week to celebrate International School Meals Day 2017, and Mouhamed was excited to talk to us before the ceremony began. When asked what it is that we were celebrating today, he excitedly said, “It’s Canteen Day!” He reflects, “School meals help me to eat very well and remain attentive to what the teacher is saying. Even if the teacher is absent, I still go to school and stay in class because I look forward to my school meals.”

Attendees with the celebration banner

To kick off the celebration, Village Chief Mr. Hgassa Boye welcomed everyone and reflected on the impact that Counterpart’s program has had on the community, including improved teacher training, the establishment of a community farm and the success of the school canteen, or school kitchen. An emotional speech, he likened Counterpart’s staff to family, demonstrating a commitment to the future of the children in town through food. “Thanks to the school meals program at Ngnith Elementary School,” he noted proudly, “we have future engineers, teachers, and doctors.”

Community members attending the International School Meals Day celebration

There were over 600 people in attendance — children, parents, teachers, Counterpart International local and headquarter staff, and local and state officials of the Government of Senegal. The President of the Ngnith School Management Community, Mr. Mor N’Diaye, expressed his gratitude for the community support for and participation in this program. He went on to speak about the broader impact that school meals were having on the health of the community, noting that “one cannot talk about student education without addressing health and hunger. For sick kids cannot learn and hungry kids cannot learn.” This appreciation of Counterpart’s holistic approach to addressing food security in Senegal was echoed in the statements made by many of the dignitaries.

For the Mayor of Ngnith, Mr. Adama Sarr, the participation of women in his community was a significant factor in the success of the program. “Women are the pillars of our society and play an important role in the success of the school canteen. Without them, the meals would not get provided,” he said. He stressed the importance of community engagement and service and reminded his constituents how important these programs can be; thanks to the school canteen, enrollment at Ngnith Elementary School is up and dropout is down.

Youth performing at the International School Meals Day celebration

The Education Inspector of Saint Louis, Mbaye Babou, commented that he was especially pleased to see sustainability being built into the program, ensuring that community members know how to manage the community gardens and school canteens after Counterpart completes their work in Ngnith. “USDA and Counterpart have committed to helping the community grow its own food,” he shared, to the agreement of many parents and community members in attendance.

To underscore this point, Mr. Abdoulaye Touré, Chief of the School Feeding Division in the Government of Senegal, acknowledged that the government needs to do more to contribute to sustainability past the life of the program as well. Mr. Toure commented that “Currently, 16.4% of the school budget is allocated to school canteens. However, that is not enough. The government needs to do more. Our goal is to do our best to offer school canteens nationwide.”

As a Senegalese proverb states, “When you are hungry, you do not have ears.” Today, on International School Meals Day, Mouhamed and his classmates have full bellies and are ready to listen and learn.

Watch Coverage of the Celebration (in French)

Senegal National Television was on-site for the celebration and broadcast coverage of the event, including speakers’ remarks and community performances.