Nutrition is a concept that has united a group of determined women in Gaza. They formed the Food Bank Center, a women’s co-op that provides 1,500 children with free breakfasts twice per week.
Through this initiative, women chefs will earn money to support their families, provide free nutritious meals to preschool children, and utilize their cooking skills in kitchens fully equipped by Anera.
“How your child eats today will affect his or her health throughout adulthood,” says Maysoun, a teacher and participant. She introduced the nutrition initiative to her preschool, which is located near the co-op kitchen in Gaza. She says that the project builds upon values she learned when she took part in Anera’s early childhood development teacher training program.
In training, Maysoun learned how breakfast gives children the energy to stay active, strong, and able to participate in class. Food helps children concentrate during school, providing energy for thinking and physical activities.
How your child eats today will affect his or her health throughout adulthood.
Suad Lubad, an ECD teacher trainer, says that foods with more than 75 percent cocoa (dark chocolate) are rich in iron, have positive effects on the mood, and work as antioxidants. She recommends adding additional ingredients like locally-made halva (sweet sesame paste) and dairy products like cheese, which are high in protein, fat and calcium. These benefits are necessary for the mental and physical growth of preschool children.
Both Maysoun and Suad agree that malnourishment among Gaza’s children is caused by several factors: poverty, which is brought on by high rates of unemployment (over 40 percent), lack of parental awareness, and political violence which has put children’s nutrition at a lower priority.
Women Look to the Future
Today the kitchen at the Food Bank Center is bustling with women with rolled-up sleeves. They’re preparing for a productive day. “We are in full swing this morning,” says Areej Ismaeel. “We left home at six a.m., when it was dark. But it’s great being a part of this community initiative.”
Most women in the co-op are looking to earn a living to pay the bills and send their children to school. A few others joined to learn different cooking techniques like how to use special ingredients or make puffy dough. And they have all found fulfillment by feeding children nutritious meals.
Now the women are thinking of expanding the co-op to allow children to participate in the cooking process, as well as incorporating freshly-picked vegetables from Anera-supported farms to add to the menu. “This is a small contribution to children in Gaza,” says Areej. “It’s a gesture of appreciation among women in the community. Every little bit of help makes a difference.”
In Gaza, Anera supports eight women’s co-ops aimed at boosting women’s economic output and financial independence. Anera’s comprehensive ECD program involves training teachers, building and renovating schools, and providing children with necessary classroom tools.