Parents in Yaoundé have expressed dissatisfaction over the quality of food available in school canteens and about the absence of proper checks and balances on canteen contractors, which pose a serious health risk for their children.
Touring some primary and secondary schools in Yaoundé, one gets to notice that conditions under which food is prepared and sold to children is horrific, a practice that has been condemned by many. The situation in primary schools is unspeakable, as food is prepared as if it was to be served to animals. The innocent and ignorant pupils however, do not hesitate from buying in these canteens, as they cannot learn with empty stomachs.
Many parents have complained about the health condition of their children after they consumed food from school canteens.
“Last week, my little daughter who is in primary five returned from school and was crying. When I asked, she complained of stomach disturbance. We didn’t know what it was, till she told us that she had eaten bread and beans in school during break.
She didn’t sleep the whole of that night because of running stomach, despite the antibiotics that she took before going to bed. When I took her to a nearby pharmacy the following day, the pharmacist said that the food she had taken wasn’t well prepared, and she was warned never to buy such food again,” Melvis Nkengfack, a mother of four explained.
Just like Melvis Nkengfack, numerous parents have indicated that their children have suffered from malaises after consuming food bought in schools.
This has prompted these parents to demand that the authorities take action to improve the nutritional standard of the food being supplied in the canteens of schools.
Usually, vendors in canteens, particularly those out of the school campus are seen preparing food with contaminated water, unwashed dishes, unkempt bodies, dirty environments among others. Others go up to the sad extent of using toilets, cleaning their nostrils, yet continue serving food without washing their hands.
If this can be done in public, you can imagine how bad it is at homes. A mother talked about her neighbour who prepares food to sell under the worse conditions one can imagine. She says that her house is not different from a dungeon and most of the work is done by her little kids.
Not only the kitchen is close to a pit toilet, but flies cover the whole place when she is cooking. When her children poorly clean dishes, she uses any old clothe her hand can fall on to dry the dishes. This unhealthy food served to children at school canteens where little or no checks are carried out is detrimental to the health of students.
Pa Martin, as he preferred to be called, a father of a student said that due to lack of proper monitoring, most school canteens serve unhealthy junk food while it attracts children due to their affordable price and eye-catching presentation, it does not mean they do not pose a threat to the health of children. “These food items should be strictly checked for their hygienic condition and nutritious value,” Pa Martin said.
Stringent checks are required in the case of fried food items as the oil used is often quite poor in quality and is not replaced for several days, a mother advised. She said this ultimately affects the health of children who suffer from food poisoning, infections, diarrhoea and other gastric diseases.
These parents urge the administrators of schools to take notice of this matter and ensure that hygienic conditions are maintained in the canteen.
Health specialists report that the poor quality food supplied in school canteens is the reason behind several diseases. To them, canteen managers think only about their profits and pay no attention to students’ health. The canteens are run by workers are who are least concerned about hygiene or the nutritious value of the food they serve.
Mary Jane, a student in one of such schools noted that many students opt to eat at sales points out of the campus because food is sold at cheaper rate. Women who sell food on campuses where hygienic conditions are checked complain of high tax levies, reason why the sell at higher prices.
Even at that, most vendors still sell under poor hygienic conditions. “People have forgotten the adage about a healthy mind in a healthy body and school canteens in government schools do not rise to supply healthy food with high nutritional value,” a teacher lamented.
He stressed that the Ministries in charge of education should take steps to make school canteens supply nutritious food or hand over charge of the canteens to specialised nutrition companies. He added that prices of the meals should be affordable for all students, regardless of their financial backgrounds.
In order to avoid this, most parents have advised their children to stop buying cooked food either in or out of the campus. They now make their children food from home, or prefer they eat dry good items such as biscuits.