Guest blog by Kate Wrangham-Briggs – founder of the Kasiisi Porridge Project

Kasiisi Primary school, Uganda 2005

The Headmistress, Lydia Kasenene, commented that it was lunch time.

“Fine.  Where do they have lunch?  I’ll join them there” 

 “I said lunch TIME,” laughed Lydia. “They don’t HAVE lunch!”

Did you celebrate World Porridge Day on 10th October? For 1,250 primary school children in rural Western Uganda a cup of porridge can mean the difference between getting an education and a life of poverty without basic schooling.  Here’s what some of them wrote to the Kasiisi Porridge Project to thank them for setting up a feeding programme in two schools:

  • You save us from our enemy, hunger.
  • We now no longer have pains in our stomachs.
  • Because you wanted us to do well, you gave us porridge.
  • I was too small because of going hungry. Now I am putting on weight because of taking porridge. At home we don’t have enough to eat.
  • These days we are learning properly because there is no more hunger at our school

But there will be hunger if we don’t continue with the project, and there is hunger at three other local schools, desperate to join it. In this area stunted growth and malnutrition are common, affecting more than 40% of local children.

The schools all lie on the edge of Kibale National Forest, home to a few hundred endangered chimpanzees, a huge variety of monkeys, birds, trees and insects, and the hub of some of the most important scientific research in the world.

A good education in a school near the forest means learning the importance of conservation too.  The local people are well aware of the forest and who lives in it – some families even time their getting up in the morning by the motorcycle-like calls of the black and white colobus monkeys at dawn. But an understanding of the potential benefits to the local economy of wildlife conservation is another matter.

Where better to start learning these lessons than at primary school?

Children who eat can learn.  Children who eat want to stay at school.  Children who eat will stay for their exams and go to secondary school.  From there, a job or further education become real possibilities.

Hungry children often drop out of school.  They then have limited chances for decent employment or training.  Girls often marry early, or go into domestic service where they risk every kind of exploitation, not least, sexual.

The Kasiisi Porridge Project started with a life-changing trip in 1996 by myself, my husband and our 13-year-old twins  to visit my brother, Harvard professor Richard Wrangham.  He was studying wild chimpanzees, and was accompanied by his wife, Dr Elizabeth Ross and their three young sons. One day, for interest, as a change from forest life, Elizabeth and I visited the weathered primary school nearby.

Our lives would never be the same again.

The visit had a dramatic impact on us, revealing that children at the school were studying in overcrowded, underequipped classrooms dangerous enough to need evacuation in high winds. Teacher training and teacher pay were inadequate, morale was low and malnutrition stalked the majority.  A year later, the school would be further overwhelmed with hundreds of new pupils when free, compulsory primary education was introduced in Uganda.

An immediate consequence of the visit was the establishment by Dr Ross of the USA-based Kasiisi Project.  Since the nineties, this project has rebuilt several schools, adding dormitories, libraries, staff rooms and, recently, power.  Things moved quickly, and today it also offers secondary-school scholarships, teacher training, pre-school education and computers, health, and conservation education.

But it was another visit to Kasiisi in 2005 that provided the impetus for the founding of the Kasiisi Porridge Project – now run in partnership with the Kasiisi Project.  While visiting Kasiisi Primary School once more, I asked to assist in one of the classrooms, late one morning. The Headmistress, Lydia Kasenene, commented that it was lunch time.

“Fine.  Where do they have lunch?  I’ll join them there” 

 “I said lunch TIME,” laughed Lydia. “They don’t HAVE lunch!”

Since that exchange, one thing has led to another.  With the £100,000 raised in its brief five years, the Kasiisi Porridge Project has now built latrines and water tanks, created two school kitchens, hired cooks, and provided porridge to two schools near Kibale National Park. Has any of this made any difference?

It has.

Studies show that the feeding programme has led to higher energy levels in children, especially among girl orphans, lower absenteeism and a reduced dropout rate – all necessary ingredients for a secure future.

Amazing what can flow from a daily mug of porridge.

For some, World Porridge Day needs to be every day.

For more information or to donate to the Kasiisi Porridge Project, go to www.kasiisiporridge.org. Or to donate direct from this site please go to the top of this blog and click the “donate” button on the right.

2 thoughts on “Guest blog by Kate Wrangham-Briggs – founder of the Kasiisi Porridge Project

  1. Really nice to hear about the amazing things you’re achieving by providing what should be a basic necessity for all, but sadly isn’t. It’s fantastic what can be achieved through the power of porridge!

  2. Such a wonderful and inspirational project! A lot of hard work is leading to some really fantastic results and with additional funds the project could achieve so much more. Great work.

Leave a Reply