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Seibo Japan ~Delivering School Meals to Protect Children’s Futures! ~

©Seibo Japan

Mr. Declan Somers and Ms. Akiko Hirosawa of
Seibo Japan.

In October’s Close Up, we introduce Seibo Japan, a registered non-profit organization. Through its base of operations in the African nation of Malawi, one of the world’s most impoverished, Seibo Japan is working to change the country’s fortunes by providing its children with nutritious school meals. On this occasion, along with Ms. Akiko Hirosawa and Mr. Declan Somers of Seibo Japan, in addition to discussing the school meals program that the organization is undertaking in conjunction with a local partner called Seibo Malawi, we had an opportunity to ask numerous questions about the nation itself, which is somewhat unfamiliar to a Japanese audience.

Q. Please tell me about what led to the establishment of Seibo Japan.

A. As a registered NPO, we established Seibo Japan in January of 2015 with the aim of “feeding every hungry child in the world a hot meal at school.” If children are unable to eat sufficiently, then it becomes difficult for them to focus on learning. Moreover, children who cannot learn cannot possess dreams for the future. By contrast, for children who are able to eat well and focus on their studies, we feel they will grow to become important human resources who can contribute to their country’s future. By delivering school meals to hungry children worldwide, we want to realize a society where children can exercise their own unique sets of skills. It is for that reason that we commenced our school meals program. Seibo Japan actually started field operations in Malawi in February of 2016 by providing meals to a number of nursery schools. Currently, we are also offering school meals to elementary schools. As to why Malawi was selected as our first base overseas, we chose it due to “Seibo Malawi,” a partner organization that cooperates in the delivery of school meals.

© Seibo Japan © Seibo Japan

Seibo works to keep smiles on children’s faces.
© Seibo Japan

Q. Could you tell me more about Malawi?

A. Located in south-eastern Africa, the Republic of Malawi is a small landlocked country that shares borders with Tanzania, Mozambique and Zambia. The country is approximately equal to the combined size of Hokkaido and Kyushu. Moreover, roughly 20% of the land within its borders is covered by the expanse of Lake Malawi, a UNESCO-registered World Heritage Site. Malawi’s population is approximately 17 million people, of which 80% are engaged in small-scale farming. In addition to the growing of corn, a staple of the national diet, farmers also cultivate crops for export such as tobacco and tea, etc. Malawi is also recognized as one of the most impoverished nations in the world. In 2014, average income per head of population was just US$336. Thus, the reality is that many Malawians are unable to obtain sufficient food for themselves. However, rather unusual for an African nation, Malawi lacks a history of wars and civil disturbances. Moreover, because the Malawian character is both gentle and friendly, the nation is known as “the warm heart of Africa.” Even when they are hungry or they feel unwell, Malawian’s always keep a smile on their faces. That is another character trait that we admire about them.

© Seibo Japan

Mr. Somers and Ms. Hirosawa speaking of the attractiveness of the warm hearts possessed by Malawians.

Q. What sort of impact does the nation’s economic circumstances have on the children of Malawi?

A. For every 1,000 live births in the country, some 64 Malawian children perish before reaching their fifth birthday. The rate of infant mortality among children under five years old is particularly high, with death in 50% of cases resulting from malnutrition. Although Malawi has been ranked as having “the slowest walkers in the world,” the reason for that is not just the relaxed attitude of the population. Indeed, another reason for Malawians walking so slowly is that many could not obtain the nutrition required to sufficiently develop their bodies when they were young. Also in Malawi, just 35% of children manage to attend a nursery school. While many children start to receive an education by attending elementary school, roughly half of them quit prior to graduation. What is more, although difficult to imagine happening in modern Japan, approximately 10% of Malawian children never go near a school at all. Against such a backcloth, we wondered what could be done to encourage such children and get them to school. What we came up with is the school meals program that is currently being carried out.

Q. Please tell me about Seibo Japan’s school meals program?

A. While coordinating our efforts with Seibo Malawi, we started our activities by offering meal assistance to nurseries in the country. Currently, we are delivering meals to some 40 different nursery schools, which means that roughly 1,600 children each day are being fed. Furthermore, from April of 2016, in that we took over the “Malawi School Meals Project” previously run by the Japan Overseas Cooperative Association, we started offering school meal support to a single elementary school. Moreover, the scope of our activities has begun to expand in that from September of this year we started offering school meals to a second elementary school, etc.
In Malawi, the standard fare for a school meal is a type of porridge known as “Phala” which is made from a maize and soybean flour mix. However, the form of “Phala” that we provide is called “Lukini Phala” and it is packed with additional vitamins and minerals. At the cooking facilities established in the grounds of nursery schools and elementary schools, the people doing the cooking are neighborhood volunteers. Moreover, when we started offering school meal support, we provided the different nursery schools and elementary schools with both cooking vats and cups and plates for the doling out of meals. We also gave them buckets for the washing of hands, etc.

© Seibo Japan © Seibo Japan

A local volunteer cooking a school meal in a kitchen where the cooking vat has been set on bricks.
© Seibo Japan

Q. And what sort of response have you had since starting your activities?

A. When commencing our support of the nursery schools, in addition to those children who were already in attendance, we confirmed with each facility how many more malnourished children they could handle. We then made arrangements for a number of children who were either orphans or who were from a particularly impoverished family to attend nursery school free of charge. We now have 43 such “Seibo Kids” who are able to both attend a nursery school and receive a meal. Looking at their growth charts and how they are developing, bit-by-bit we have been able to witness positive changes occurring among them.

© Seibo Japan © Seibo Japan

Children eating “Lukini Phala,” a porridge made from a maize and soybean flour mix.
© Seibo Japan

Q. What issues, if any, are you currently experiencing?

A. Since commencing our school meal support activities, Seibo has received numerous requests for school meals to be delivered. Local people tell us “We will build a nursery school, and we want you to deliver school meals to it.” However, in that our activities are based on the donations we receive, it is very difficult for us to immediately respond to such requests. As such, in the future a major issue for us will be how to best strike a balance between our limited financial resources and the desire to expand the scope of our activities. Currently, the cost of feeding a single child for a day is ¥15. In other words, with ¥3,000, we can cover the cost of feeding a child for an entire year. What currently supports these arrangements is that through our cooperation with Seibo Malawi, Seibo Japan does not have to expend funds in the country on issues such as wages, etc. However, in that Malawi is currently experiencing a dramatic increase in corn prices, the basic ingredient of our school meals, an issue for us is for how long we can sustain a single meal being just ¥15 to produce. Another issue is the great diversity we see in the quality of buildings that house nursery schools. With the simplest structures made just of dried thatch or cardboard, we sometimes feel concerned that our kitchens are of a better quality than the nurseries they are supposed to support. There are also concerns regarding the ability of some structures to endure the rainy season. Although we are an organization involved in the offering of food support, in the future we might have to consider such issues as well and make some adjustments to how we operate.

© Seibo Japan © Seibo Japan

While there are some nursery schools housed in brick buildings, there are other constructed of dried thatch and cardboard.
© Seibo Japan

Q. Please tell me what you hope for when undertaking your activities in the future?

A. Due to the severe flooding that occurred in Malawi in January of 2015 and the drought that followed it, the local food situation has become even more dire than it already was. In a report that was issued on the country by UNICEF, it was stated that one in every three people in Malawi is now directly threatened by the risk of starvation. As I mentioned earlier, Seibo Japan is currently supplying school meals to two elementary schools. However, recently we received a request from Malawi’s Education Ministry to rapidly expand those operations so that we could feed some 12,000 children attending 12 different schools. To respond to that request during 2016, at the earliest possible opportunity, we will need to raise the required funding here in Japan. Thus, in addition to proactively undertaking public relations activities to teach as many people as possible about what we do, we would also like to publish a great variety of different information so as to allow people in Japan to gain a better appreciation of Malawi as a nation.