The symposium explored the importance of feeding children breakfast and lunch at school, discussed the best models to apply the policy and at the wider impacts this will have on families and communities.
Mana MP Hone Harawira’s private members bill to feed the kids was pulled from the ballot last year and is to come up in parliament in June. It would provide the resources for all decile one and two schools to provide breakfast and lunch to their children as the first step in providing this for all schools.
Inevitably issues of poverty, inequality and the daily struggle for survival were discussed but the most revealing aspect of the discussion was the huge opportunities and benefits for New Zealand communities which will come from empowering communities to look after their kids as they want to.
But the most revealing part of the presentation was the realisation that feeding kids in schools opens up huge opportunities to grow and develop our communities.
I’ve always had confidence in our families and communities to raise their kids well provided they have the resources to do so. However our families have become so financially stressed and life has become such a struggle that the feeding their kids is no longer always possible for so many.
The right-wing have always mocked policies such as feeding kids in schools. They say it’s a “nanny state” approach that takes away personal responsibility. They say people need freedom to make choices for themselves rather than have big governments make choices for them. Fair enough in most situations but what they always neglect to say is that freedom and choice come from having the income to make those choices. The poor automatically have less choice than the rich and the way to give people more choices is to increase their income and reduce income inequality across the society.
But the National/Act/Maori Party government is taking us in the opposite direction. Their policies aim to make the poor poorer and to create more opportunities for wealth and income to be shifted to the rich. And so poverty is endemic, third world diseases haunt our children kids go hungry in this land of plenty.
Providing government funding for schools to feed their children will not only feed hungry kids but also provide huge opportunities for family and community development where it is needed most.
Feeding kids at school will mean schools will call on parents and families to help as volunteers to prepare and deliver breakfast and lunches giving the chance to strengthen family/school ties and the all-important learning relationships which go with them.
It will encourage more schools to develop community gardens and, over time, be able to provide a significant amount of the food themselves.
Kids have always got their hands dirty at school – now they will have an even better reason.