The school canteen project was set up as part of Feedback Madagascar‘s health and environment initiative to help prevent deforestation and encourage school participation in the small rural area of Tsaratanana in the Ikongo district of South-Central Madagascar.
To get to Tsaratanana myself and my colleague Mamy (Ny Tanintsika’s Yam Project Technician) made the journey from the larger village of Ambotfosy mounting uphill passing dense vegetation, lush green fields, with small streams frequently crossing our path. As we passed the breath-taking scenery I felt as if I were seeing the typical depths of Madagascar’s rainforest corridor. As the rain started to fall by the afternoon we hurried our journey, aware that the lake near to the village where we were to stay for the night was likely to rise.
The School Canteen Project has been running since 2008. The canteen is a great asset for the school children in the villages of Tsaratanana. Before we made our way to Ikongo I read through some interviews from a year after the canteen was opened to get a feel for the project. It was interesting to read how something like the canteen could be such an asset to children’s study in this region. In these interviews the headmaster recalled how children’s attendance had shot up when the canteen was open, and the school day could continue uninterrupted (without children having to return home at midday). In areas like the Tsaratanana villages where the majority of pupils often live a distance from school the journey to and from home often takes a large part out of the day. In addition to the canteen serving to increase pupil’s attendance, the canteen also helps to prevent deforestation in the region so fewer logs are burnt to make food.
When we arrived my colleague Mamy started to collect interviews from different members of the village, starting with the canteen president, Emmanuel. Mamy wanted to interview the president, the headmaster of the school, in addition to a number of parents in order to assess the progress made both concerning the developments of the canteen and the impact of the canteen on school attendance over the past year.
It was clear from speaking to Emmanuel that the canteen remains an asset and has countered some of the problems it first experienced which were most likely a result of the canteen being a new initiative for the region, for example that of a dispute between the canteen cooks and parents who now have a good relationship.
Emmanuel informed us that the children continue to enjoy the benefits of the canteen with the school day being longer and uninterrupted. And in the last semester state students can come to attend a special class on the Saturday. He told us that children even want to go to school on a Sunday because they love to eat at the canteen! It was also nice to hear that students continue to remark that they feel like studying for longer when they are well fed!
Of course, the maintenance of the canteen has come across some external problems. The rainy season last year brought cyclones which damaged both the school classroom and the canteen which has meant the school period has been interrupted while these buildings have needed to be reconstructed. Problems were also encountered with the planting of seeds for food in the canteen garden which were stolen on a few occasions.
Despite these problems the pupils have seen a good series of results at the end of the academic year 2009 – 2010, a clear reflection of the fact that students have increased their attendance. At the end of the school year from 2008 – 2009 the past rate for students was 68% and at the end of the school year from 2009 – 2010 it was 92%.
With areas like Ikongo seeing a low attendance of school children having incentives such as the school canteen which encourage studying is vital for improving literacy in rural Madagascar.
Photo 1: The School Canteen, Tsaratanana, Ikongo. [Photo credit: Samantha Cameron]
Photo 2: Emmanuel, president of the school canteen being interviewed. [Photo credit: Charlotte Broyd]