Fighting Hunger, One Bowl at a Time: The Battle for Food…

“Do you want porridge or a banana?” Lorraine Festus calls out to the children standing outside her door at her home in Mitchells Plain. “A banana,” stammers a young voice as he and several others wait their turn to get their share of porridge or fruit, depending on availability.

Festus prepares porridge every day for the children in the neighborhood and sometimes gives take-out rations to mothers who have to work.

For many, it is the only meal of the day.

With poverty, crime, drug abuse, gender-based violence and low levels of education cited as the most pressing challenges in the Western Cape, it is the children who suffer and often go hungry and malnourished.

A country of starving children

In the Eastern Cape, starvation deaths have been documented by Daily Maverick – Lily “Seven children die of starvation, others fight for their lives as malnutrition ravages the Eastern Cape”.

Florence Mdose takes care of her baby in Groendal, Franschhoek. High unemployment is a contributing factor to child hunger. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

Malnutrition is on the rise in South Africaparticularly since the Covid-19 lockdowns pushed more families into poverty. According to South African Child Gauge 2020the country experiences a “double burden of malnutrition”, where undernutrition and overnutrition coexist.

The Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town reported that in 2020, 10% of children (2.1 million) lived in households that reported being hungry. More than a fifth of them (22%) were from KwaZulu-Natal and 19% from Gauteng.

“A child wouldn’t tell you he’s hungry if he’s not hungry. These children are hungry, hungry,” says Festus.

Florence Mdose in front of her cabin in Groendal where the children of an ECD center play in front of their class on March 24, 2022. They share the center with other tenants. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
The view of the valley alone would make this property of choice. From a hut in the courtyard of her landlord’s property, headmistress Sipokazi Ndlelebanzi looks after 44 children who are crammed into three small classrooms in Groendal, Franschhoek, on March 24, 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Festus works for the Foundation for Community Work (FCW), which promotes holistic early childhood development (ECD) within families and communities. It is one of many partner organizations receiving food aid from Joint Aid Management (JAM).

JAM is a relief and development organization that has been “combatting hunger, malnutrition, poverty and barriers to education” in Africa for 38 years.

The organization views nutrition as the foundation of children’s health and education – hungry or malnourished children cannot grow and develop to their full potential. In the Western Cape, it currently feeds around 9,000 children a school day with a bowl of porridge fortified with essential daily vitamins and minerals.

A girl washes her hands at the Kabouterland early childhood development center in Franschhoek. In addition to nutritional food, JAM also raises awareness about water, sanitation and hygiene. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

When JAM conducted body mass index (BMI) tests at Mitchells Plain and Khayelitsha in March, 86% of children tested were underweight.

“The need is greater than meets the eye. At first glance, the children are nourished and healthy, but the BMI results show that the majority are still underweight. This means there is a huge aspect of malnutrition that is not visible firsthand,” says Adel Terblanche, Western Cape Community Development Manager for JAM.

In Franschhoek, 89.3% of children tested for BMI were underweight. The statistics seem even more worrying in such a rich region. But, as elsewhere in South Africa, the rich are neighbors to the have-nots. Among mountain peaks, fertile vineyards and extravagant vineyard hotels are those whose lives are marred by the insecurity of seasonal jobs and the timeless quick fixes of alcohol and drugs.

Abuse of the R350 subsidy

Many JAM partners here scoff at the “R350” – the Social Distress Relief Grant given to certain families as part of the government’s Covid relief efforts. “It’s Christmas every month!” explains Ingrid Laponie, who runs an ECD center in Saagmeule, a district close to the La Motte wine estate. “Some people really need the money and do the best they can, but most of them use it to buy drugs and alcohol.”

This child from the Kabouterland Early Childhood Development Center in Franschhoek is one of 57 people who receive a bowl of JAM porridge every day. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

She called on the Ministry of Social Development to visit her area when the grants are disbursed so that they can “see what happens when people receive their grants”. It shows young people walking down the street, smoking and laughing.

Besides unemployment, she says, fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is a huge problem in their area – despite the lessons she gives to pregnant women about its dangers.

A woman holds her child after receiving her share of porridge in Mitchells Plain on March 25, 2022. The meal eases financial pressure on many early childhood development centers and parents in poor communities. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)
A little boy returns his bowl after finishing his porridge at Lorraine Festus in Mitchells Plain on March 25, 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)
Children enjoy their porridge outside the home of Lorraine Festus in Mitchells Plain on March 25, 2022. For many children, it is often the only nutritious meal they will have in a day. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

“You can see the signs, their appearance and they can’t concentrate in school, easily distracted. We are a small community, so we know the parents. We do the training but they always say, “but I don’t drink wine or whisky, I just drink beer or cider”.

Across the main road that takes you into the quaint town with its art galleries, shops and fine restaurants is Groendal, where huts rise up the mountain.

A little boy waits to receive his share of porridge at Lorraine Festus in Mitchells Plain on March 25, 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The valley view alone would make this prime property, but here children line up to use the toilet in full view of each other at an ECD centre. From a shack in the courtyard of her owner’s property, director Sipokazi Ndlelebanzi looks after 44 children who are crammed into three tiny classrooms.

A challenge to register

She struggles to register her center because government requirements are strict.

“There are a lot of rules and policies that make it difficult,” says Terblanche, explaining that JAM also tries to help ECD center owners in this regard.

Lorraine Festus prepares meals for the children at her home on March 25, 2022. “My porridge is a real blessing for these children. A bowl of porridge is everything for a child,” she says. (Photo: Shiraz Mohammad)

“We have a lot of problems here. Communities need help, they need awareness, they need to be educated about the problems so they can solve them themselves.

But all of these efforts require funding, and one of JAM’s biggest donors pulled out at the end of March.

“It’s absolutely devastating,” says Terblanche. “Thousands of children will no longer have our porridge. It only costs R60 a month to feed a child. I’ll put my head on a block for our mush. I saw what he did.

Once again, it is the children who will pay the price. DM


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