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Let thy Food be thy Medicine

By Frida Gachagua

In Kenya and most African countries, primary education is compulsory and often subsidised by the government. These means that a nation’s future generation has people that can at least read, write and perform simple arithmetic. The attendance of high school is lower by almost a third because most of the most of the African girls drop out to because of marriages, war, peer pressure, pregnancies, poverty or just apathy. This gives a small window in which a country can ensure that all the children that attend school have enough knowledge to provide and cater to not only their future needs but those of their families.

The curriculum for most of the primary schools is usually Math, English, local language for example Kiswahili, Science, Social Studies and Religious Studies. These curriculums are often much generalized because it tries to the different student needs, economic status, reading material availability and different I.Q’s of the students.

The teachers and administrators are often underpaid and underappreciated hence have little or no drive to teach over and above what is set in the curriculum.

This is where the problem lies, in the small period in which the country has to teach and shape young minds is wasted on things that they may not need, want or require later on in life.

In most of African countries millions die of hunger, chronic infections and poverty related diseases and instead of teaching the children about food production and nutrition, they spend hours learning ho religious verses( Religion studies) and how to clean a house( Social studies).These are things should be taught at home or in houses of worship. Schools and any formal training are meant to uplift and enrich one’s life.

Most girls in these countries begin their menstruation periods almost 20 months after industrialised countries. This is only the beginning of a harder life compared to women in wealthier nations. These women have many miscarriages and give birth to underweight babies.

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These healthy vibrant young girls grow up very fast to jaded prematurely aged downtrodden thirty year olds. This is because they have limited knowledge of their dietary needs and how to meet these needs. For example there are many people in the highlands of the Kenya that still get food aid yet they have acres of land which they grow tea or coffee.

This is not unique to women alone, the boys to grow up very fast in Africa .Leaving school prematurely to help run the family business which is mostly in food production, but because they did not learn anything new or useful in school, they run the business the way their parents ran it and so on so forth. In the end you have a group like the Maasai in East Africa that keep cattle and every drought season the animals die, they then get financial and food aid from the government, which they use to buy more cattle and the cycle of poverty continues.

Part of the solution would be teaching the children farming techniques unique to their areas and rounding it off with nutrition. If girls in general are menstruating later, it can only mean that they are not getting enough nutrition or eating foods that don’t have enough iron.  Teaching these girls to grow iron rich foods like Kale or spinach that don’t require much space( a box of soil, seeds and regular watering) is all that needed to change the health of the girls. It can start at kindergarten where they can for example grow mushrooms, bean or carrots in recycled cans or old boxes. Nutrition should also be taught along side the food production, for example beans are a cheap and good source of protein. Teaching these small children nutrition has quick returns for they will eagerly go home and share this information with their parents.

Some African schools especially in improvised areas provide school lunches. This is meal is sometimes the only meal that this children get. These meals are often provided buy the government and or foreign aid and is usually very basic like Corn and beans (Githeri as it is called in Kenya).This food does not have any vitamins or iron that the children and girls especially may need. A small herb garden in a school may go along way in not only flavouring the bland food but boosting its nutritional content. Herbs like Echinacea, thyme and sage cannot only be used as herbal remedies they are also easy to grow and drought resistant.

Hippocrates states let food be thy medicine; the education system is the answer to heal the African nations. Teaching the young children of school going age how to grow food that is nutritious and drought resistant could change the direction that the nation is heading. Its time that Africa realizes that the harsh truth is that not everyone’s child is going to be a doctor or priest and start teaching basic survival skills that every child can use on a daily basis.


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