Cornmeal & Lentils

I was in 5th grade and remember marching down to the cafeteria for lunch – just as we did everyday… but on this particular day, we stood in line and they dropped a square of corn bread on our trays and asked us to sit down. A teacher began to tell us that … “In some parts of the world, this is all someone will eat today.” We did, eventually, get back in line for that bizarrely, awesome school pizza cut into its familiar rectangle, but it is obvious that this small opportunity for learning struck a big chord in me. It was 1985 and we were seeing images from the Ethiopian famine everywhere and collecting change in our cardboard UNICEF milk cartons. It was a world hard to imagine.

So, years later- I found myself wandering down to the schoolyard during lunchtime, to see what the children in Nyabikiri, Rwanda will eat for lunch today.

Thankfully, there is a strong governmental food program in Rwanda, but I learned quickly that the menu doesn’t change. Everyday, the same – cornmeal and lentils.

It is funny to think that if a school in America served the same meal everyday at lunch, there would be a revolt and rightfully so with the resources we have been blessed with. But, as I was quickly surrounded by kids and their plates of cornmeal and lentils – I began to ask them if they liked it? If it tasted good? Countless, resounding head nods! This was not the Ethiopian famine, but I was told that this too may be the only hearty meal for some of the children looking up at me. Whether it was one child or the whole group of children, your heart breaks. It is so hard to understand our world sometimes.

But teaching me a lesson in resiliency, the children had genuine smiles on their faces when they told me it tasted good! But eating it everyday?!?… I had to wonder about their answer. But again, just one of the many humbling experiences in Rwanda.

While I hung out during lunchtime, I learned about another strong government school program that filled me with incredible hope. It is an incentive program focused on educating girls.

Unfortunately, still today, girls in some parts of Rwanda are frequently thought of as “more useful” helping out at home with the daily chores than going to school to get an education. But in Nyabikiri, if a girl attends school without missing a day for one month straight, they are sent home with cooking oil…a value to the entire family.   I was filled with even more hope when I was told it was working… more girls are enrolled in school right now in Nyabikiri, than at any other time in their school history. YES! Success.


AmySeptember 21, 2010 - 3:23 am

Hi Kate, I remember the corn bread day, too! I agree with the natives, it is yummy! But you are right- every day?!?! I’m glad there is hope for the girls, too.
Hope all is going great in Golden! :-)Amy

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