Islamabad : It all started after a brief interaction with schoolchildren. Shortly after settling into the new assignment after appointment as the chief secretary in the Gilgit-Baltistan region six...
Islamabad : It all started after a brief interaction with schoolchildren. Shortly after settling into the new assignment after appointment as the chief secretary in the Gilgit-Baltistan region six months ago, Mohyuddin Ahmad Wani visited a government primary school in Khomar area of the Gilgit district.
In a packed classroom, the first question he asked the students after his introduction was, “How many of you had had breakfast before leaving home.” Up went just one hand revealing that 99 per cent of 40 children came to school hungry. He had more shocks in store for him. “I found many students to be very pale, while some sitting at the backbenches squinted at the blackboard. I quickly called a team of medical doctors for their examination, which declared more than 25 per cent of the children acutely malnourished and 18 per cent short-sighted,” said Mr Wani, whose last posting was to the federal education ministry as the additional secretary.
It’s a poor neighbourhood, where residents struggled to afford healthy diet food, so child malnutrition and the health issues caused by it had high incidence. The chief secretary took no time in deciding to provide schoolchildren with free meals on campus and roped in food charity Allah Walay Trust, which had soup kitchens, for the Meal-a-Day initiative. “We [administration] designed a well-balanced healthy cuisine, including meat, pulses, vegetables, bread and rice, and began giving it to all students six days a week. Besides, we also started assessing the students’ heights and weights and checking their eyesight to prevent stunting. Additional nutrition will be provided to the homes with affected children if the need arises,” he told ‘The News’.
The programme was extended to 20 schools in Gilgit with the support of the Allah Wali Trust as well as another NGO prompting the regional government to give away money to provide free meals to students in 35 more schools. “If things go as planned, the Meal-a-Day initiative will cover primary government schools in all urban centres of GB by the middle of next year,” he said.
The school feeding programme, which also extended to teachers and guards, delivered the goods. “Enrolments in the Khomar school increased up to three times, the students’ vision improved, their self-respect got a boost, and they got more focused on learning,” Wani said. Besides free meals, the GB schoolchildren have also got access to clean drinking water on campus.
The chief secretary believed that the children could learn to the best of their abilities only if they got a proper healthy diet, their eyesight was perfect, and they had no hearing impairment. He also said modern, well-equipped computer labs and libraries were being established in schools across the region as learning spaces for students.