By Dianne Sivulka, Outside the Bowl Operations Director
I recently returned from a trip to Africa with my family where we had the privilege to visit Outside the Bowl’s Super Kitchen in Paarl, South Africa. I knew they had been distributing Vita Kidz Porridge for the past two years to nearby preschools. And I knew they had recently installed the equipment to produce their own porridge. But there was so much I didn’t understand including why porridge is so important.
Porridge is a staple in Africa. Throughout Africa, a maize-based mixture is cooked on open fires and consumed. The trouble with this porridge, however, is that is contains no nutritional value. For many children, a daily portion of porridge they get at school might be their only meal for the day. Porridge is cheap and available. It’s a stomach filler for hungry people.
Outside the Bowl Super Kitchens have always cooked and delivered hot meals to ministry partners. Getting nutritious meals to those who need them most is at the heart of every Outside the Bowl kitchen. Nutrition is vital for children’s growth and development. We know that those who are nourished physically are ripe for spiritual nourishment as well.
Several years ago, a South African preschool who was receiving hot lunches inquired about the possibility of an additional meal that could be given to the children for breakfast. In many cases, these children were arriving at school without having had anything to eat since the previous day’s lunch. As you can imagine, children with empty bellies have a hard time learning and focusing. While that may be the short-term disadvantage, the long term is stunted physical growth and cognitive impairment. But instead of providing a typical porridge, the team went to work on developing Vita Kidz Porridge, a porridge enriched with protein, omega-3, calcium, and vitamins.
Originally the Vita Kidz Porridge recipe was outsourced to a nearby facility to produce. Then, in July 2019, the South Africa Super Kitchen was able to install their own porridge production equipment. As a result, they are now producing large quantities of vitamin-enriched porridge for just pennies. The cost per serving is $0.17. In addition to the nutritional benefits, Vita Kidz Porridge has other benefits as well. Because it is made of extruded maize, it is instant and requires no cooking. This means that firewood is not needed, saving feeding organizations additional time and money.
After spending time in South Africa, we traveled to rural Uganda to visit the Kibaale Community Centre. We saw first-hand how 1,500 school children will benefit from Vita Kidz Porridge. Located in a rural area, these children have little access to nutritious food. Their school meals consist of maize for breakfast and matooke (a starch, similar to banana) for lunch. Friends of the organization sponsored a container of Vita Kidz Porridge to be shipped to their remote location. The director of Kibaale Community Centre shared with us what a blessing this will be to them and their students. The container has 600,000 portions of porridge that will feed their students breakfast for an entire year! Students will benefit from the vitamins and minerals. The school will benefit from not needing to purchase maize or firewood for an entire year. They can apply the savings to enhance the quality of their lunch. And in addition to all that, they are excited about the flavor! Prior to the shipping, the staff at Kibaale were invited to taste-test the four options and enthusiastically chose vanilla and strawberry.
Traveling from South Africa to Uganda and seeing the Vita Kidz Porridge story unfold from production to need, has been an incredible experience for my family. I wish everyone who knows and loves the work of Outside the Bowl could have been with us. Hot meals will continue to be a staple in kitchens for nearby feeding partners, but porridge will open doors to serving far beyond the reach of hot meals. I now understand the WHY of porridge and can’t wait to see how this new tool to feed the hungry will expand the borders for Outside the Bowl.