Counterpart has a long history of improving nutrition for school-aged children. In Cameroon, widespread drought has meant many children were not receiving the nutrients needed to keep them well-fed and focused in school. Since 2012, Counterpart’s Food for Education program has provided breakfast and lunch to more than 95,000 schoolchildren and helped increase school attendance, especially among girls.
A new partnership with the United States Potato Board (USPB) will complement these efforts, through the training of school cooks in 150 elementary schools across northern Cameroon.
Foods prepared with fortified dehydrated potatoes offer key nutrients (such as iron, iodine, and Vitamin A) and can be prepared quickly without much firewood. But, because potatoes are not native to Cameroon, school cooks didn’t know how to efficiently prepare meals using their dehydrated potatoes.
“We first cooked the dehydrated potatoes over a fire for more than two hours,” said Elizabeth Yamagui, a cook from Ecole Publique Adoumri. “We didn’t realize you can simply rehydrate them with hot water in 15 minutes.”
Overcooking the potatoes leeched the Vitamin A, wasted firewood, and well… didn’t taste very good. So, Counterpart and the USPB gathered cooks from all 150 participating schools to provide preparation instructions and encourage them to work together to develop and share appealing potato recipes. Participants also received laminated instructions about potato preparation to post in their kitchens so that other cooks and parents can learn too.
“As soon as I get back I’ll meet with the other cooks, parents, and teachers to tell the what I’ve learned and explain the nutritional importance of potatoes and how valuable a gift this is for our children,” said Kembe Esperance, a cook from Ecole Publique Houla.
Officials from the Ministry of Public Health, members of the Cameroon Network for Girls Education (RECAMEF), and local Counterpart staff also attended the USPB training and will follow up with schools to ensure all cooks have learned to prepare meals effectively.
“Potatoes aren’t common in Cameroon and students were leery at first,” said Desire Yameogo, Counterpart International Country Director in Cameroon. “Now that trained school cooks are properly preparing healthy meals, all 150 schools report that students are happily eating their potato-based breakfasts and asking for additional helpings.”
Since the launch of Counterpart’s Food for Education program, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), school enrollment has increased for both boys and girls. In 2013 alone, enrollment increased more than 18 percent, with a 27 percent increase for girls. The program also helps schools enhance their infrastructure and develop school gardens to supply their cafeterias. By working with schools and local partners, Counterpart is equipping communities with the training needed to, improve health and nutrition and expand access to education.