School Children and Uncovered Foodstuffs [Archives:1999/45/Health]

November 8 1999

A month ago schools, institutes and universities opened doors for students. Children went back to their schools, too. Before them, hawkers along with their various items of uncovered foodstuffs were already at the doors of schools.
Every morning that children go to school, they find many attractive kinds of food awaiting them at school doors; bread, potatoes, sweets and others. Eating cold pieces of sweet in the early morning has its bad effects on children’s stomachs. In addition, some of the sandwiches, due to their exposure to wind and dust cause many cases of diarrhea which may sometimes lead to death.
Many people can be held responsible for such a muddle: For example:
1- The Ministry of Education, represented in the school health offices is responsible for observing school cafeterias and what is sold to children at school doors.
2- Family. The family role in this regard is to raise the awareness of their children about the uncovered food and its effects. Beside this, mothers can provide their children with home made sandwiches or any other kind of food.
3- School Administration. In my opinion, schools can play an important role in this regard. For example, teachers can highlight the hazards of having such uncovered food, observe the cafeterias available in their schools and prevent the hawkers from approaching schools.
Due to the high importance of this issue I met with some of the people concerned.
I first met with Mr. Ismail Mohammed Al-Jormouzi, director general of the School Health office in the Capital Secretariat who talked about the role of the School Health offices as follows:
1- Prevention:
” Prevention is the most important role that we can play”, said Al-Jormouzi. “This is done through keeping the school clean and spreading the awareness of cleanliness among students.”
2- Providing medicine and first aid services
3- Administration’s role
“This is very tiring, because we have to sign a lot of sick leaves. This sometimes leads to interrupting teachers while performing their duties.””We also cooperate with policemen to conduct campaigns against hawkers with their uncovered food available at school doors. We do our best to drive them away from school, but to no avail. As soon as we disappear from the scene they come back. The solution must be through cooperation with the families which can persuade their children not to buy anything from such hawkers. They can at the same time supply them with sandwiches.
On the other hand we check all school cafeterias regularly. During our visits to schools at the beginning of every academic year, we issue certain rules to be followed by workers in such cafeterias. A few headmasters understand the importance of this issue. Some of the considerate headmasters close their school gates at the breaks. By so doing they prevent the student from being in touch with the hawkers. However, some of the schools’ yards are not large enough to accommodate all the students at the break. In these schools it is impossible to close the gates.
In our latest campaigns we seized a lot of expired foodstuffs from hawkers and cafeterias.”Concerning the problems the School Health offices face, Mr. Al-Jormouzi said they were many. “Some of these problems are the very low financial support which do not exceed a yearly YR 50,000. Another problem is the lack of medicine and medical staff. We hope that the charitable societies will help us in this regard. At the same time I urge upon the Ministries of Education and Public Health to pay more attention to this important sector, and to revive their old habit of making immunization campaigns at schools,” said Al-Jormouzi.
Mr. Ali Abdulla Al-Qaiz, Headmaster of Martyr Al-Dailami School in the Capital Secretariat said: ” In fact, we depend solely on the social overseer to warn the students against any uncovered food sold in the streets. Concerning the hawkers gathered at the schools doors, most of them come to us and start complaining about their deteriorated social situations requesting us to allow them to earn their living. Of course, we do not accept anyone selling uncovered food.
There is a cafeteria at our school which is totally supervised by us. There are also some students trained by the Red Crescent who help keep an eye on the cafeteria. This cafeteria is planned to be enlarged in the future to make it a small restaurant for the teachers, too. The problem we face in this regard is the lack of a professional cook. This makes the students refrain from the meals made at school and go elsewhere seeking other kinds of food.” ” As far as the School Health office is concerned, they come to schools only once a year for nothing but collecting fees from cafeterias available at schools,” Mr. Al-Qaiz added.
“We prevent all hawkers from gathering at the school gates. We have informed the parties concerned to stop this health-hazardous phenomenon. We have also held many meetings with the teaching staff to discuss the importance of warning students against uncovered food, formed a team of scouts to watch hawkers if they try to approach the school and appointed a person to observe the cafeteria.
“About the School Health office, unfortunately, they come at the beginning of the academic year to take the fees from schools’ cafeterias,” said Mr. Mohammed Ali Al-Shami, Headmaster of Tariq Ben Ziad school.
We also met some little students and asked about this matter. Manar Ahmad Mohammed Al-Ashwal, primary school student, talked firstly and said, “Uncovered food is not OK. It causes diarrhea. The covered food is OK and does not cause diarrhea. I don’t like to buy anything from hawkers. If I want to buy, I buy covered food. I prefer to bring sandwiches from home because they are OK.”
Yasser Abdul Wali Kaid Al-Ghabiry, primary school student, said: ” I buy only from shops and the cafeteria. I like sandwiches very much and sometimes I bring some with me from home. I don’t buy from hawkers because their sandwiches are exposed to polluted air”
“I eat at the cafeteria because the food is clean there. I sometimes bring sandwiches from home. Our teacher does not tell us anything about the uncovered food and its hazards on health. My friends and I have decided not to buy from hawkers, but unfortunately, they backed out,” said M’an Daood Mohammed Al-Shaibani, primary student, said.
“I eat at home. I don’t like the sandwiches sold by hawkers because they cause diarrhea. My parents warn me against uncovered food but our teacher does not,” said Muad Abdul Rahman Hamid, primary school.
At the end of this survey, I came to the following conclusions:
1- The School Health office does not have means enough to visit schools regularly.
2- The role of the Ministry of Public Health is insufficient.
3- Some families are not aware about the hazards of eating uncovered food.
4- The Ministry of Education should prepare specific programs for school students to raise their awareness about food.
5- I suggest checking what hawkers sell and allow only those who sell clean food.
Diseases resulted from eating uncovered food are increasing day after day due to the carelessness of the parties concerned and families. I hope there will a remedy for this negative phenomenon.
Yasser Mohammed Ahmad
Yemen Times