Every day, Counterpart International delivers hot meals to thousands of school children in the Saint Louis region of Senegal. In rural areas where communities struggle to cope with the recurrent droughts that jeopardize their subsistence farming lifestyle and hinder their ability to feed their children, school meals can alleviate the financial burden on families and allow children to stay in school longer. With schools providing these healthy meals, attendance improves and enrollment in schools increases. Complementing these meals with lessons about best practices in health, hygiene, and nutrition is key to making a long-term impact on students and their communities.
In this spirit, Counterpart hosts Annual School Health Weeks each year at our partner schools, in order to educate the community on health and hygiene best practices. These important weeks include sessions on how to clean the schools and their surroundings, and group discussions led by nurses around selected topics. Counterpart also provides teacher trainings on health, nutrition, and the environment.
In 2017, one of the most popular features of the Health Week was an art competition launched in participating primary schools. Students were asked to submit their best drawings around the theme of healthy messages. The murals competition was a fun way to educate the community, especially students, on healthy behaviors by promoting local fruits and vegetables to meet nutritional needs, while inspiring students’ talents and boosting self-esteem. The drawings were judged by a committee of students, teachers, and parents and the winning artwork for each school is now featured prominently on the wall of the schoolhouse for everyone to see.
The murals are an enjoyable and interactive way to convey important messaging and improve health in a way that children can easily appreciate and relate to. “[The] murals promote the importance of avoiding unclean water and the reasons it is necessary to keep common areas swept and clean. Students from the primary schools submitted drawings promoting hand washing, reforestation, balanced diet, and other healthy messages,” our staff noted about the excitement surrounding this initiative.
According to Mr. Ibrahima Ba, School Director at the Diagle Elementary School, where a mural depicting the major food groups now enhances the school façade, “the mural serves as a teaching material for sessions on food hygiene and environment. With the mural, we can easily refer children to the different foods, the nutrients they contain, and their effect on the body.” Counterpart and the participating schools now feature 203 winning murals, which will continue to enhance the understanding of good health and nutrition practices for students, parents, and staff for years to come.
Our McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Project in Senegal is funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Between 2014 and 2018, the project targeted 270 schools, including 66 preschools. In just the last two years, the program has served over 11.5 million nutritional meals to more than 45,300 preschool and school-aged children to keep them focused on school and better prepared for a brighter future. The program will expand to a new region of Senegal – ensuring an increased impact on even more students and more communities – beginning in 2019.