By Ashley Elizabeth Henderson
One of the biggest criticisms of the Millennium Village Project is sustainability. This week, as an intern on the Uganda team, I witnessed first-hand some of the difficulties surrounding the transition from project initiated interventions to community managed continuation. In the education sector, the site team has three general objectives: universal primary enrollment, improved retention rates, and quality control. One of the interventions they found to be most effective in achieving all three objectives was the school feeding program. Before the project, most children arrived at school (some walking up to 6 km) without any lunch to sustain them through the 8 hour school day. Many children would end their school day at the midday break while those who stayed had to attempt to concentrate through their hunger. Other children choose to forgo school entirely in favor of a schedule that would allow them to eat. The team concluded that providing lunch to primary school children would increase enrollment, retention, and performance.
The site team has determined that each child needs 8 kg of food per term. In the first two years of the project, all 8 kg were provided. Then the local team attempted to initiate a transition to sustainability by asking for the parents to provide their children with 3 of the 5 weekly meals. The preparation required proved difficult and most arrived empty-handed. In 2009, the Ruhira site team asked the community to provide 5 kg of a child’s requirement while the project supplied the difference. Since most families grow beans and can afford to provide 5 kg a term, the project accepts 5 kgs of beans and converts 3 to posho, a maize porridge.
The logistics behind this arrangement are extensive. In order to ensure community buy-in, the site team organizes a parent sensitization program with the parent-teacher association informing the community of the importance of school feeding. The head teachers at each school are in charge of collection of the 5 kg of beans per term. The site team must sell 3 kg of each contribution and use the proceeds to buy 3 kg of posho. The project also provides the seed money for school gardens to supplement the school feeding program. The nutritional team determines which crops should be grown and the children tend the gardens as part of their agriculture curriculum. A cooking team must be organized and paid by the school and PTA. The success of the program depends on the management at each school, the local harvest, and the degree of community support.
The four primary schools we visited on Thursday were executing the new community contribution program to varying degrees of success. One school served only porridge, blaming lack of rain for diminished local harvests. At another school, the principal informed us that the contributions were 3 weeks late but he had not yet taken any action to solicit them. At the largest of the four schools we visited, we watched 500 students enjoy heaping plates of beans and posho while the principal proudly detailed his successful community collection.
Despite the challenges in implementation, our experience demonstrated the project’s intent to develop a clear exit strategy before pulling out. The team understands the need for sustainability and has a gradual plan to wean the community from external funding. Success will ultimately depend on the individual sites but the project does seem to provide the tools for the independent continuation of this intervention.