Sun | Oct 21, 2018

University of the West Indies introducing project to improve nutrition for children in communities around the Mona campus

Published:Sunday | March 1, 2015 | 12:00 AMNadine Wilson-Harris
Alexandria Hemming (left) and Alexia Hemming of the Shalom pre-school, 'hard at work' in the school's vegetable garden.
Principal of the Shalom pre-school, Dahima Cousins-Henriques

Fixing the nutritional deficiencies affecting the learning of basic school students in the communities around the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) is high on the agenda of the Mona Social Services (MSS) unit which wants to wean children off a diet of unhealthy snacks such as 'cheese trix' and bag juice.

A kitchen gardening project being implemented by the MSS unit is to be rolled out in eight early childhood institutions and is geared towards 200 children between the ages of three and six years old.

The project is expected to provide increased insight into the correlation between nutrition and academic performance amongst children in low-income environments.

At the same time, it may offer an understanding of the economic barriers women face, and the effects on their children. The quantitative study will assess the children's progress for two years, monitoring this against their pre-test scores taken before joining the programme.




Under the project, crops reaped will be used for the schools' breakfast and lunch programmes with parents and teachers expected to assist in tracking the health benefits to children.

"Through preliminary research, we found that the performance of students at basic schools in the Mona community was below average, and nutritional deficiency was possibly a contributing factor," explained Dr Olivene Burke, from the MSS unit.

"Persons who are hungry usually cannot perform well and tend to be irritable. With this project, we intend to find out both the extent to which proper nutrition will aid children's academic performance, and also the effects on the parents in terms of reducing their stress," she said.

A pilot of the kitchen gardening project was started at the Shalom pre-school located in African Gardens, Greater August Town last year May, and MSS is reporting that this is already reaping success.

Planting of the crops was initially done by representatives of the MSS unit in partnership with the University of Tennessee. However, students, parents and staff at the school are now the ones doing the planting.

"First we did tomatoes, and although it didn't come to full term, the children got to see it, and what we want to do now is to extend it so they can use it in the kitchen," said principal of the Shalom pre-school, Dahima Cousins-Henriques.

"We actually got cane from the garden already, plantain, banana and the sucker is now being replanted and we had corn and so on," added Cousins-Henriques.

She explained that the school had also planted carrots, sweet pepper and mint. Unfortunately, the project was affected when goats broke down the school's backyard gate and ate most of the plants. They are also in the process of changing the soil used for planting.

"It helps them to know that they can grow what they eat," the principal said of the project.