Teaching Healthy Habits in Gaza Preschools
Zakher Preschool has been receiving fortified milk and biscuits for the past four years as a participant of ANERA’s Milk for Preschoolers program. The preschool, located in Gaza’s Shejaiya neighborhood, opened its doors this year to 95 children. Not only does the preschool offer general classes, it uses the fortified biscuits and milk to help teach the youngsters about hygiene and healthy habits.
The preschool often uses plays, songs, stories and cooking classes to convey essential messages and lessons to the children. Nisreen Al Sahabeen has been teaching at the preschool for six years. “We try to cook meals rich in vitamins and iron. The children participate in the process of cooking.”
At the same time, Nisreen says the teachers use play-acting to demonstrate the dangers of eating potato chips and the benefits of eating chickpeas. To reinforce that lesson, she says, the canteen stocks popcorn and pretzels but no potato chips or chocolate.
Health lessons are part of a program reaching 20,000 kids across Gaza.
The health lessons work for eating nutritious snacks too. Zakher’s Director Feryal Jundia says the fortified milk is the first thing the children ask for in the morning. And when they get the milk and biscuit snack, they can readily explain why it is beneficial to their health.
One student Hamid enthusiastically responded, “It makes my teeth and muscles strong. It contains a lot of vitamins.” When asked where he got this information, Hamid confidently replied, “from my teacher!”
In poorer communities like Shejaiya, many children suffer from anemia. Although poverty is a major factor of anemia, the lack of proper information about nutrition also contributes.
“With simple recipes of cooking and proper snacks, we can educate children about food values. We find that words like vitamin and iron do stick in their minds,” says Nisreen.
Director Jundia says the children learn more than just nutrition at Zakher Preschool. When they finish sipping milk, the children volunteer to collect the boxes and throw them in the basket. “It becomes a habit that they even apply at home with their brothers and sisters.”
ANERA’s Milk for Preschoolers program was launched in 2003 in Gaza to help combat anemia and malnutrition among preschoolers aged 3-5. Today, the program provides milk and biscuits to approximately 20,000 across Gaza.