Feeding Children at the Center of the World

Team Partnership for Child Development (PCD) is working in Ghana to improve the school feeding program. PCD is a nonprofit organization centrally coordinated at the Imperial College of London that uses a network of experts, academics, and civil society organizations to influence policies on child education and nutrition. Our team’s goal is to examine how the country’s strategic grain reserves (buffer stocks) fit into school feeding program and identify ways to strengthen the connections between local farmers, the government, and school caterers.

No amount of research could have prepared us for Ghana. On paper, Ghana is a prosperous nation in West Africa, a model for economic growth and stability in the region, and a poster child for school feeding programs. Located on the Greenwich Mean Time just above the Equator, Ghana is quite literally at the center of the world.

The reality is that Ghana is still a truly developing nation. After settling in to our hotel just outside the University of Ghana, our team of obronis (Gustavo Brandileone, Nicolas Bennett, Sean Yokomoto, Slava Balter) explored downtown Accra, the country’s capital city. We expected a bustling and modern city center. Only Independence Square, the Black Stars stadium (Ghana’s national football team), and Flagstaff House (the President’s home) met those expectations. Instead we found an amazingly different, even relaxed village recovering after Sunday church. Partially developed construction speckled the horizon like modern-day ruins and a mixture of dirt-and-asphalt roads were dangerously lined with treacherous three-foot trenches that served as the city’s sewage system. Good luck if you miss a step.

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(Downtown Accra: Independence Square with the Black Stars stadium in the background)

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(Marketplace: business on top, family in the back)

The biggest reality of Ghana’s development hit the moment we got back to our seemingly modern hotel. No power. From then on we got used to daily power outages. Ghana had grown too quickly beyond its energy capabilities. But we had a packed agenda for our three weeks here so we pushed on and worked through the blackouts.

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(Power outages: the work goes on for Team PCD)

PCD did a phenomenal job arranging meetings with government ministries, schools, farmers, and school feeding partners. There was no lack of people willing to share their knowledge and their challenges. With every progressive meeting we felt a growing duty to really solve the inefficiencies of the current system. While the government officials played a big part in implementing our recommendations, the real beneficiaries were the children. During our visit to a school, we surveyed a classroom full of fourth graders about their satisfaction with school feeding. At the end one brave boy stood up and asked us to “please increase the quantity of food.”

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(Feeding time: meeting with the headmistress, caterers, teachers, and students in a remote village of the Central region)

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(Smiles: children escape their classrooms to say hello)

The ultimate challenge: our client’s last visitor was Bill Gates. Bill visited Ghana just a couple months before us and stopped by the same school. No pressure. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had taken a keen interest in home grown school feeding and had funded a project for PCD to connect local farmers into the supply chain. With a slew of visitors and little change, we felt a pressing need to use our field observations to influence policymakers.

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(Meeting with government officials: in Ghanaian fashion, we started an hour late and included every decision maker possible)

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(Meeting with farmers: brainstorming how to increase farmer crop sales to school feeding)

Our fact-finding mission took us around the country, so we took advantage of the time to explore the far reaches of Ghana. On a trip to Tamale in the agrarian Northern region, we spent the weekend in Mole National Park, a safari reserve full of wildlife. Three hours battling with a dusty cheese grater road, rising temperatures, and no A/C we finally arrived at a serene nature escape. Sneaky baboons spared no time to jump on our table and steal Gustavo’s fries. Elephants were a bit more graceful and stayed a safe distance from base camp.

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(Elephant sighting: trying to look relaxed under the blistering sun)

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(Baboon thief: scouring our camp for more food)

After a weekend at the savannah, we returned to a hectic schedule of meetings in Tamale, Cape Coast and Accra. We had plenty of human mouths to feed.

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