I recently had a discussion with some other bloggers on twitter about the ethics of messy play with food. Is it alright to encourage our children to play with food, inevitably wasting some of it, when there are many children in the world who do not have enough to eat? I would be really interested to hear people’s views on this. The consensus on twitter was that it was probably okay to continue, but that we shouldn’t do so unthinkingly. We are, most of us, able to spend money on materials and resources to support our children’s play and learning. We buy art materials such as paint, paper, pencils, modelling clay, glue and glitter, and we also spend money on books and magazines for our children. We can choose to do this because we have enough money to feed them, and some (though maybe only a little) money left over. So perhaps the issue is not that we sometimes choose to use food for play, but that we can allocate money for play materials in the first place. This is a good thing, but we should be conscious of how fortunate we are.
This conversation came back to mind this week because Save the Children have published a ground-breaking new report Food for Thought which shows that chronically malnourished children are, on average, 20 per cent less literate than their better nourished counterparts.
Globally, one child in four is chronically malnourished. The report shows that not having a nutritious diet can severely impair a child’s ability to learn to read and write, no matter how much educational input they receive.
Far from being able to play with food, these children do not have enough food to eat to give them energy to play or to enable them to learn. Their future choices are being limited by their lack of adequate nutrition now.
One such child is Ngouth, a 12 year old boy from South Sudan.
Although he is 12 years old, Nguoth looks about eight. Like many students in his class, for two years he had to drop out of school because there wasn’t enough food at home. He still misses school at least two days a week to go into the bush to find wild fruits. On the other days, he comes to school hungry. In 2010, the UN declared Akobo, the region where Nguoth lives, the ‘the hungriest place on earth’. Drought, floods and inter-communal conflict have left a third of children malnourished.
This is Nguoth’s story in his own words
“I was five years old when I started school. Sometimes I had to stop coming because I was hungry. For two years I dropped out because I had to go to the river to fish and to the bush to collect wild fruits for my family. I think the situation is getting worse and more children are stopping coming to school to help their family.
I have two brothers and one sister. My sister left school in P2 so she could help our mother by collecting food and firewood. My older brother left this school and went on to finish P7 but then dropped out. My younger brother is still in school with me.
Many of my friends are absent again and again because they’re going to the bush to collect fruits. At the beginning of the year there were 28 children in my class. Now it’s around 21.
Today, most of my schoolmates have gone to fetch water from the river or to work in the market. Some have gone to a school in town where there’s food [a school feeding programme]. Most of my friends are in P5 or P6, but I’m still in P3 as I had to repeat some years. This is my second year in P3. When I’m hungry, I feel sick and go to the bush to find wild fruits. At least twice a week I stay home and don’t go to school. That’s why I’ve had to repeat some years.
Hunger is very bad in this area. We have no gardens to grow food because the floods destroyed them. The people are angry with each other and there’s no peace. People are very sick, malaria is very high and lots of children are absent from school. It’s hard for children to be happy and take part in class because they’re hungry.
There’s no food at home so I feel hungry. We eat once a day. I don’t eat anything before I come to school. Sometimes I find the classes hard because I’m hungry. Sometimes I feel shivery. If I continue to suffer like this I’ll have to leave school.
My favourite subject is science and when I finish school I’d like to be a doctor.”
The Food for Thought report is part of the IF campaign. Over 170 charities are joining together to call for the G8 to take action on World Hunger. Their message is simple. “The world produces enough food for everyone, but not everyone has enough food. We can change this in 2013. IF we act together, we can make this year the beginning of the end for global hunger.”
You can make a difference. Be part of the generation that ends world hunger. Sign the IF petition now.