It’s been 2 days since National, ACT and United Future voted down the Feed The Kids Bill, and I am still fluctuating between heartbroken and seething.
As for the Under-Secretary-for-Charter-Schools-and-Generally-Selling-off-our-Education-System-to-the-Private-Sector, said that “…in general from a Māori perspective, top down centralised solutions have never been very good for them.” Because, you know, only Maori kids are hungry, and he’s such an expert on all things Maori, being a rich white guy from Epsom.
So let’s turn to people who DO know about poverty. Who have lived it. Who aren’t just waffling to promote or protect their own careers. No, not teachers this time – let’s turn to a gang leader.
Jamie Pink is the president of the Tribal Huk gang. This gang runs a Feed The Kids operation of its own: “They are making sandwiches for kids at school who have nothing to eat. They make between 450 and 500 sandwiches every school day and deliver them to 25 Waikato schools in Hamilton, Ngaruawahia, Huntly – as far north as Rangiriri.” They fund this themselves, and use either home-grown produce or bought goods, using 40 loaves a day (Coupland’s Bakery sells it to them for 90c a loaf – bless you, Coupland’s).
The Tribal Huks have been making and delivering sandwiches for two and a half years and haven’t missed a single day, reports Waikato Stuff.
This gang sees a need and meets it. They realise that kids learn far better if they are not hungry. They get that children will will see school as a far more positive experience if they are fed there.
“When I was little we had no food,” says Pink, “so I grew up a hungry little bugger and a bit angry, too.
“The main reason we’re doing this is because there’s a lot of hungry kids out there and it means a lot to be able to fill their little bellies up.”
And despite David Seymour’s ‘expert’ comments, it’s not only Maori bellies that need feeding. When the gang heard of a child who could not eat their sandwiches as they weren’t halal, they made different sandwiches just for him. Because whilst David Seymour thinks only Maori kids are going hungry, Pink knows different, and rather than wax lyrical his gang meet the need. Jam sandwiches it is, for as long as the lad needs them.
Will Pink stop? No. “‘There’s no stopping,” says Pink. ”There’s no, ‘Oh, I don’t feel well today, we’re not coming in.’ Nah, it don’t work like that. No way, no way. Because then you’d get that nightmare that those kids might not have been fed that day. Oh, that’s enough to keep you going.”
How shameful that failure to feed the kids would give Pink nightmares but doesn’t make Peter Dunne miss a wink.
And while Pink is delivering sandwiches daily, John Key maintains his wilful ignorance and refuses Metiria Turei’s invitation to visit a school in need of a food in schools programme.
What a bizarre and shameful situation for New Zealand that a gang understands hunger’s relationship to education better than those in government.
Read the full article here.
I am sending you on a professional development course next week. The course is residential and you will be supplied with everything you need for the week.
You are in Group A:
There will be no breakfast. You will be provided with chippies and water for break, a small pie for lunch, beans on toast for dinner, and as much water as you want.
A bed is provided, which you will share with one or two others in an unheated room. The room has only a modicum of mould and damp
You should not bring books or a computer.
You should only bring one or two sets of clothes for the week. If you have some, bring a worn pair of shoes with holes in them. Otherwise jandals or bare feet will be fine. It is only a 20 minute walk to the course venue, so a coat or umbrella is not needed.
Should you get ill during the course, you will have to continue, but there is plenty of sympathy on offer. You cannot miss any of the course, even if ill, as there is no-one available to look after you.
Welcome. Your group will get cereal, milk and fruit for breakfast, sandwiches, fruit, a cereal bar, cheese and crackers for lunch, a hot meal of meal and two veg for dinner with dessert on some nights, and hot chocolate and a biscuit for supper. There will be hot drinks, milk and water readily available throughout the week.
Your single occupancy room will be heated and have a bed, books, internet connection and a computer, a TV, and an en suite shower. It is a dry, clean, healthy room.
Bring one or two sets of clothing per day and as many pairs of shoes as fit in your luggage. Please bring a coat and umbrella to keep you dry as you walk to and from the car that will take you to the venue.
Should you get ill during the course, you will have access to a nurse or doctor and suitable medication. Should you be too sick to attend any part of the course, someone will be there to pick you up, take you to your room and watch over you until you are fit to return.
– Please note that both Groups A and B are expected to pass the course with the same high achievement levels.
– If any students do poorly or fail the course, their tutors will be deemed to have failed.
– League tables will be released showing which tutors fared the best/worst.
– Tutors with failing or low achieving students will have their wages docked accordingly.
– Failure of Group A to achieve equal pass rates to Group B will result in workshops for Group A being handed over to the private sector.
Because feeding hungry kids so they can learn is SO last season.
See here for the Children’s Commissioner recommendations on poverty: http://www.occ.org.nz/publications/expert-advisory-group/
by Judith Nowotarski, NZEI Te Riu Roa President
When it came out this week that Treasury had advised the government that school breakfasts had no measurable impact on educational performance, principals of low decile schools around the country were flabbergasted.
It appears the officials at Treasury know more than the doctors and nutritionists who have long championed the crucial importance of breakfast, especially for children. They certainly think they know more than the principals who see the difference a full belly makes on concentration and behaviour levels. They have even managed to find one study from Auckland University to support their stance, despite what the overwhelming majority of other local and international research says.
Windley School in Porirua has a breakfast club five days a week and principal Rhys McKinley has observed that on the three occasions that fights have occurred, they involved students who hadn’t had breakfast. Many of the students come from very difficult home situations and being able to come to school and start the day with a hot, nutritious breakfast means they can focus on their work rather than their gnawing hunger.
The students at Windley School are lucky to have a breakfast club, run most days by volunteers from Arise Church and school staff, but many low decile schools are missing out or receive support and funding on an ad hoc basis from various NGOs and community groups.
Certainly the government doesn’t want to get involved – they are trying to farm out social services such as housing. They don’t want to take on any more initiatives, even though every charity that works with impoverished families thinks school meals are a great idea.
Feeding hungry kids is surely a moral obligation in a country that can afford to do so. It is also just the beginning of what needs to be done to break the cycle of poverty that is trapping too many families. It is almost two years since the Children’s Commissioner’s Experts Advisory Group released its report with 72 solutions to child poverty, but it was largely sidelined. Boosting family incomes is the obvious key to reducing poverty, but that will take time and investment. In the meantime, children still need energy to learn.
The Treasury paper from February 2013 warned that if the government itself got involved in providing food in schools there was a risk of “scope creep” – uncontrolled or continuous growth in costs. It pointed out that the government already supplies fruit in low decile schools and the likes of KidsCan, Fonterra and Sanitarium run breakfast clubs. The fear of spending too much money is apparently a good justification for spending hardly any at all.
Treasury recommended more research on the extent of the problem and engaging with existing providers of food in schools to understand the level of need.
Meanwhile, as the numbers are crunched, children are going hungry through no fault of their own. As treasury pointed out, not every child who misses breakfast does so because of a lack of food, but tens of thousands do. Many of these children went to bed hungry in the first place. And then we ask them to come to school for a mentally and physically exhausting day of learning.
Inevitably, in a discussion such as this, some people will blame the parents for inadequate budgeting, but whether parents could have stretched the grocery budget more effectively or not, the fact remains that children in our first world country are going hungry. If you don’t have compassion for hungry kids in this land flowing with milk and Weetbix, you could consider what a drain on the public purse their poor health and educational underachievement will be in the future.
For the government to depend on charities and corporate philanthropy to meet the needs of the increasing number of families that are falling through the cracks is like baling a sinking boat with a tea cup. Certainly the government needs to focus on growing the economy and creating jobs that families can afford to live on. But please, in the meantime, can we also ensure no child has to learn and grow on an empty stomach? What’s good for the weakest and most vulnerable amongst us, is good for all of us.
The principal of May Road School in Auckland, Lynda Stuart, has challenged Treasury officials to go without breakfast for one month in order to share the experience of thousands of New Zealand children.
She says it beggars belief for Treasury to suggest that there is no link between hunger and educational success.
“We run a breakfast club and so we see first-hand how breakfast sets children up for the day. Any teacher will tell you that a child who is hungry will not be able to learn properly. Contrary to what Treasury believes, this is backed by real evidence from both here and overseas.”
The principal of Merivale school in Tauranga, Jan Tinetti, agrees and says breakfast club at her school is absolutely crucial.
“For a lot of our kids it’s the first meal they’ve had since lunch time the previous day. I’ve seen kids that arrive at school completely off the boil and so we get them over to breakfast club and that settles them down and puts them in the correct space for learning. The difference that breakfast makes is simply enormous.”
She says that moreover, feeding hungry children should not be just a value-added or cost-risk argument.
“Surely it is immoral to suggest that it’s fine for children to be allowed to go hungry because there’s no food in the fridge at home?”
NZEI Te Riu Roa President Judith Nowotarski says she backs Ms Stuart’s challenge.
“I think it would be a very good reality check for Treasury Secretary Gabriel Makhlouf and his senior advisors to go hungry and see how effective they are in their jobs.”
“It is time for Treasury to stop indulging in its ideological agenda and see the real world.”
“Research consistently shows that children who do not have adequate food at home are likely to be more frequently absent or late to school than their peers, have lower academic achievement and poorer performance, especially in numeracy and literacy, and difficulty concentrating.”
Children go hungry in all countries, in all walks of life, but some countries are better than others at accepting the responsibility for ensuring children are fed.
“Today our goal to offer every infant child a healthy, tasty school meal has become a reality, a move that will put money back in parents’ pockets while ensuring all children get the best possible start in life.”
“The government has provided £1bn to meet the costs of the meals over the next two years.
“In addition, it has made £150m available to improve kitchen and dining facilities, plus an extra £22.5m for small schools.
“Schools will have a legal duty to offer the meals, which are expected to save families £400 per year per child.”
“Mana Party leader Hone Harawira’s member’s bill to provide free breakfasts to all low decile schools is due before Parliament in coming weeks but is unlikely to get majority support.” Source
I didn’t pass. Just breakfast for low decile schools – not even all schools – just those at the sharp end – and it STILL didn’t pass.
So, charities are again filling the gaps:
Other countries like the UK… provide state-funded free meals to eligible students, and some such as Brazil and Chile provide state-funded free meals to schools with high levels of deprivation.
Come on, New Zealand, it’s not too much to ask that kids are assured on one decent meal a day on school days so they can concentrate and learn. It’s time to get this sorted out. Let’s do this.
I read an interesting piece today about the perils of assuming kids in higher decile schools are being fed.
It resonated with me and gave me reason to ponder my own experiences and reflect on what opting into programmes can mean for those kids on the receiving end of the help.
There were (and are) no deciles in UK schools, but if were to hazard a guess I would say it would have been a decile 7-8 school.
Lunch time was a lesson in class and wealth.
The UK school lunches programme was subsidised so there was a small charge for the fabulous hot meals provided – one my parents could pay and were happy to do so. And if your family didn’t earn enough, you got a ticket to say you were entitled to FREE MEALS.
It was great!
There was food for all, in every school, and it was hearty and healthy. No burgers and chips back then, it was all Shepherds’ Pie and peas gfollowed by sponge and custard, and a second helping if you were lucky.
But it did have a down side that only really struck me again today after reading Coley’s article.
Them and Us
At lunch time, it was totally clear to everyone who was who in the poverty pecking order; I remember my best friend’s true mortification every day as she handed her free meals lunch ticket over in front of the whole waiting queue and all of the seated kids in order to get her meal.
They could not have embarrassed her more, short of stamping her on the forehead with POOR.
The Mystical Lunch Boxes
And even then it had other complications. Not everyone took advantage of school meals. I remember those children that brought packed lunches. Cold food all packaged nicely in a lunch box and brought in each day. I had no idea why they had those. Why would you have cold food when hot food was on offer? It was a mystery to me, completely, but I did recognise that it was those kids that bused down that brought packed lunches, not us that bused up. And we sat in separate spaces – hot meals in one area, lunch boxes in another.
The divide was very clear.
So, I knew I was poorish because “the posh kids” ate cold food from a box. But I knew I wasn’t as poor as the ticket kids. They were very poor – the ticket told us that.
In short, at lunch times, my place in society’s pecking order was laid bare.
How it feels to be ‘othered’
As Coley Tangerina says “Let me tell you something about being part of a poor minority in a wealthy private or “well zoned” public school – if your classmates can’t tell your poor because of the weird shit you wear to school, they will tell when you’re asking for food in the mornings.”
Despite the passing of time and the change in my circumstances, I can feel my cheeks reddening even now remembering how I felt as I realised that the kids from my area were different to those that bused down. That I was different.
Was it even worse to be in the top stream with the kids with the proper uniforms? None of them wore uniforms that were never quite the right shades of blue, bought from the market or made by mum. I don’t know if it was worse than handing your food chit over every day, but it was certainly embarrassing enough to put me off uniforms for life.
These small thing tell a child that they are different to their classmates, and that those differences are beyond their control.
This is what it is like when a child is in a school where only some kids opt into the food programmes. Them and us.
What a rotten way for any child to feel.
There’s no easy answer, but the discussion surely cannot be over with this Weetbix opt-in half-cocked solution, can it?
Do it properly: Extend free food at school by Colin Espiner
Feed the Kids A Fact Sheet on the Education (Breakfast and Lunch Programmes in Schools) Amendment Bill
We’ve got to feed these kids.
Give them food so they can learn and know that they live in a society that care.
Break the cycle.
1. First of all let’s decide on the principle before arguing about the detail.
Let’s admit there is a significant problem of children turning up to school hungry and that a lot of kids are eating low cost foods that contain a lot of sugar and fat , causing obesity , diabetes and long term health problems.
And at least get the Feed The Kids Bill to Parliamentary Select Committee. You can argue all you want about how it should be funded or what’s going to be on the menu there.
If you don’t think we have a community responsibility to feed children and/or educate their palates to healthy eating habits – then read no further it will only make you angry.
2. It doesn’t fill a hungry kids tummy to point at their parents and shout “Your problem is you have bad parents”.
Inside Child Poverty New Zealand takes the view that kids don’t get to choose their parents and we have a community responsibility to ALL our kids to make sure they grow up healthy. And if that means feeding them for free- then that’s what we do.
If you watch the video that I filmed in Sweden for the documentary you will see children from multi -cultural backgrounds CHOOSING their food. And Yes children with allergies are catered for and Yes children can still bring their own lunch prepared by the parents .
4. Free healthy school meals can be paid for without raising taxes. We just choose to re-distribute the existing pool of tax payer money and give up on some other things.
Here are some suggestions. I’m sure you can think of other ways we could spend smarter.
Let’s impose greater penalties for tax evasion, and let’s stop thinking of tax as a bad thing. Tax is a good thing – it’s giving to ourselves. That’s how we can have schools and hospitals and yes even Roads Of National significance. Tax is the price of civilisation. Get over it.
Now whether you agree with some of the above, all of the above or none of the above , let’s at least agree that the Feed The Kids Bill should at least go to Select Committee after its First Reading so the issue can be properly debated.
Please contact your local MP today and urge them to support the Feed The Kids Bill.
You can find their contact details here – just click on their name.
Award winning documentary maker Bryan Bruce spent 6 months investigating what’s gone wrong with child health in New Zealand and what we can do about it.
He interviewed parents , teachers and health professionals, he even went to Sweden to find out why they are No2 in the OECD for child well being and we are second to bottom at No 28.
1 in 5 of our children now live in a home where the principal care giver is on some sort of benefit . It is children from these low income families who are largely suffering a number of the diseases associated with poverty including Rheumatic fever, Tuberculosis and serious skin infections.
Bryan is convinced from what he has seen in Sweden that there are many things we can do today that would solve our child health problems. So please watch and make your thoughts and feelings known to your local politician.
Follow his work and add your voice here.
Some of Bryan’s other work:
Join the discussions online:
When someone from points to one school and says, “See, poverty doesn’t matter. High expectations are all it takes to overcome poverty,” tell them to read the work of Shonkoff and the Harvard Center on the Developing Child.
Some children survive the most extreme adversity, but far more do not.�
Read more here Poverty and Stress Can Damage Children’s Lives.