Sri Lanka is currently facing its worst economic crisis since independence in 1948, leading to over six million people, accounting for 30% of the entire population, having to slash their food intake and go without having three meals a day.
According to statistics of the World Food Programme (WFP) 6.3 million people are food-insecure while 6.7 million people are not consuming adequate diets.
The situation has left children and pregnant mothers most vulnerable, as a majority of the population id compelled to fill their tummies with whatever available, whenever it is possible, for the purpose of survival, with absolutely no consideration to the nutritional factors.
The programme to provide schoolchildren with mid-day meal by the government since the 1980s and ‘90s had come to an abrupt suspension due to economic factors.
In order to provide children with at least a small meal, different schools and organisations are adopting different programmes at present, as even adults cannot concentrate when the stomach cries for food.
Kandangamuwa Maha Vidyala is a national school in the Gampaha District, where 18 Parliamentarians- 13 from the SLPP of which two are key ministers in this Government, four from SJB and one from NPP or the JVP – are elected from.
Despite being in the Western Province, Kandangamuwa Maha Vindyalaya stands poles apart from other national schools in the same district or the province as majority of its students come from families which are categorised as low income.
Many children attend school missing at least two previous meals and with no idea if they are going to have a few mouthfuls of rice within the day.
“I came to this school in mid-2019. I work at national schools and before coming here, was at Gurukula Vidyalaya in Kelaniya. Even though both are national schools in the same district and the same province, I felt a huge gap when it comes to the children in both schools. I realised that we can’t hold morning assembly successfully as it was habitual that at least 15 to 20 students faint or fall unconscious in that one hour or 45 minutes,” Ananda Jayaweera, Principal of the school said.
After realising that, this was a daily occurrence, the Principal had called a staff meeting to discuss about it. They had then decided to conduct a small research and found out that it was the same group of students that fell sick during the assembly.
The Principal and the teachers contemplated and tried different methods like giving each student a glass of herbal porridge, but realised it costs a lot. After much deliberation it was decided that each staff member would pack an extra meal packet and would drop it in a box.
“Majority of children come from families that are under immense economic difficulties. We found out that they not only haven’t had breakfast, but dinner and lunch the previous day. Not by choice, but they were compelled to come to school on empty stomachs as their parents were absolutely unable to provide anything edible,” he lamented.
We named the box that meal packets are dropped in as ‘Suwa Divi Manpetha’ (a path to healthy life) and kept it at a place where it was visible to all yet would protect the privacy of children who take the meal packets.
“We were concerned about doing it in a way that would not affect their personality. When we first announced the existence of such box and that those who need can take meal packets from it, we observed only those who are most deserving, i.e., those students who fainted came and picked the packets.”
Some of the children that come from families who starve for days and days are now provided with two meal packets.
“What’s the point in filling one tummy? Children must be thinking they are somehow able to eat at least one good meal while others in his family are left in starvation. Therefore, I give two meal packets to them. One to have during the interval in school and the other to be taken home and share with family,” Principal Jayaweera added.
He said his staff consists of 50 teachers while there are about 950 students in the school.
“Even though all 50 of us may not bring an extra meal packets every day there are at least 25-30 packets collected. We are now planning to take it further. We want to see children with empathy growing in our school. They should feel the hunger of their friends and be sensitive to others’ pain. Therefore, we thought of letting students who are willing and are in position to provide another meal packet also continue with this endeavour,” he added.
Food inflation reached a record high of 90% in July, up from 80% in June and 57% in May which had severely affected people’s access and ability to pay for adequate and nutritious food.
According to Trading Economics Website, food inflation in Sri Lanka averaged 8.35 per cent from 2009 until 2022, reaching an all-time high of 90.90 per cent in July of 2022 and a record low of -4.10 per cent in February of 2012.
Food Inflation in Sri Lanka is expected to be 100.00 per cent by the end of this quarter, according to Trading Economics global macro models and analysts’ expectations. In the long-term, the Sri Lanka Food Inflation is projected to trend around 12.00 per cent in 2023, according to our econometric models.
By Gagani Weerakoon