Ghana: Millions of Ghanaian school children go hungry during caterer strike

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Striking school cooks in Ghana want a one-year backdated salary and increased food allowance. Caterers attribute the price spike to the war in Ukraine. Millions of children will not be fed until the problems are solved.

Members of the Ghana School Feeding Program (GSFP) went on strike in early May.

School cooks who prepare meals for students have knocked down their cooking utensils to protest unpaid wages and demand more money from the government to pay for school meals.

The ongoing strike means millions of schoolchildren are left without food — at least until the government gives in to the demands of striking restaurateurs.

children suffering

At Kogni Primary School in Tamala, northern Ghana, the usual playful energy of pupils has noticeably dampened due to their hunger.

“Sometimes we come to school without food and our parents don’t give us any money,” said Dempuyet Mercy, 14, who has been receiving meals from the government school feeding program for 10 out of 17 years of existence. .

For every hot meal Dempuyet eats, the government pays about 1 Ghanaian cedi (0.13 US cents, 0.12 euro cents). The Association of School Caterers wants an increase of 3 cedis per meal.

“We’re not going to cook until we hear from them,” association president Juliana Cudjoe told local Joy News radio. “We need our payment – and we want a raise too.”

Corruption allegations

In addition to their demand for an increase in the food subsidy, the association wants the government to pay one year backdated salary to its members.

When the strike went into effect, the government organization that oversees the Ghana School Feeding Program (GSFP) issued what many described as an “out of touch” press release, ordering caterers to return to their kitchens.

The caterers ignored his demands and continued the strike.

Ten days later, Gender Minister Sarah Adwoa Safo sacked GSFP leader Gertrude Quashigah.

The exact reasons for the dismissal were not mentioned. But in September 2021, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said he asked the Ministry of Finance to transfer 31 million cedis ($4 million, 3.7 million euros) to the GSFP.

However, the caterers’ association claimed that the GSFP still owed them about a year’s salary.

Effects of poverty and malnutrition

The children bear the brunt of the strike.

“We drink water before leaving [to school] and your stomach aches. But you don’t have to do anything. You have to take it that way,” explained Dempuyet.

She is supposed to be in junior high school 2 at her age. But instead, she is one of those whose parents cannot afford to send them to school.

The government’s feeding program aimed to attract children like Dempuyet to school, even if only for the hot meal.

Ghana was struggling with low school enrollment rates, especially in poorer communities due to extreme poverty and malnutrition.

The idea of ​​providing meals to first-year students began in 2005. Although welcomed by many, the GSFP has been widely accused of corruption, ranging from providing unhealthy meals to not paying teachers’ salaries. caterers.

“They owe us, so we want them to do something for us,” Christiana Dery told DW.

She was the only caterer who agreed to speak to DW. Many others feared that the GSFP would single them out for speaking to the press and strip them of their contracts.

“You can’t work and you don’t get what you work for,” Dery added.

An impact of the war in Ukraine

The School Feeding Caterers Association had been threatening to strike for some time.

Dery told DW that the last straw was the increase in the price of groceries due to the war in ukraine.

“Today things are difficult,” she said.

“When you go to the market, you cannot buy food even for 1 cedi, let alone 0.97 pesewa. So we are asking for the increase to be 3 cedis per child.”

An estimated 4 million school children in 11,000 public schools across Ghana are deprived of their free school meals due to the strike.

Ghana’s Minister for Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Sarah Adwoa Safo, met with the striking caterers last week but failed to reach an agreement.

“The government, at this critical time for the education of our children, should do everything possible to provide the funds that allow the implementation of the policy, the return of the matrons and the schooling of the children as planned,” said Agnes Gandaa, who works at the Tamale Center for Integrated Social Development.

Until the government is able to put caterers back in the kitchens, pupils at Kogni School will continue to stare at their empty food bowls in the schoolyard.

This article was originally written for radio broadcast, it was adapted by Abu-Bakarr Jalloh and Keith Walker.

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