Brooke Blanchard

Brooke Blanchard (Undugu Society of Kenya): In 2004, Brooke conducted research on child labor abuses in Ecuador and worked as a physical therapist for children. In 2009 she worked as the Youth Program Coordinator at the International Rescue Committee. At the time of her fellowship Brooke was pursuing her MA in International Affairs at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. After her fellowship, Brooke wrote: “After working in the slums, I see myself as unbelievably fortunate. It was very trying at times, so I think I’m proud of getting through the most difficult aspects."

Poverty, Violence…and the Lunch Lady

19 Jun

In 1994, Adam Sandler and Chris Farley performed an inspiring song titled “Lunch Lady Land” on Saturday Night Live.  Thanks to this national treasure we can always feel assured that Lunch Lady and her paramour Sloppy Joe are continuing their domestic life in greasy and hair net bliss.

However Mr. Sandler touched upon something else in his song that has a (perhaps) more profound impact and international significance than men in drag and dancing pizzas.  He opened his performance with a dedication to “the person who more than anyone else puts young people on the right path.”  In many ways he was right. Today the implementation of  a “Free Lunch Program” in slum or poverty stricken schools is considered to be the vital component in increasing attendance, lowering levels of child labor, and reducing the potential for slum violence.

School Lunch

Potatos and Beans....Another yummy lunch at Mathare Undugu School

With no sustainable income, slum kids are constantly on the search for that day’s meal. The ‘animal spirit’ of survival flickers in the back of their wide open eyes while they “hustle” for enough Kenyan Shillings to buy Chapatti (flat bread) or maybe even some beef to eat. While obsessed with scavenging, school and education get left behind. Glue sniffing, the consumption of toxic homemade alcohol, rape, and other street crimes become attractive pastimes to either support the food hunt or just to forget their circumstances.

Boy in Alley

A young boy walks through a slum alley filled with waste

Two Young Boys

Two very young boys walk alone through a Nairobi slum

Due to the hustling drive, the lack of education and a mind-numbing idleness, slum youth-particularly boys-can become extremely vulnerable to the polarizing rhetoric and manipulation of Kenya’s ambitious political parties. Commonly known throughout Kenya but not outside of the country is that many of the people who swung the panga blades (machete-like knives) or pulled the triggers during the 2007 post-election violence were young slum boys who were offered 50 Kenyan Shillings (approximately .62 cents) to kill civilians by affiliates of particular political parties.

Young man and Pool Table

Finding ways to pass the time

Imagine the effects then, if every primary and secondary school provided a free lunch program for its students.  Kenya recently passed a law making primary education free. Thus for a period of several years, a slum dwelling child could have a place to go to 5 days of the week that offered a vital education and a reliable hot meal.

The Undugu Society of Kenya believes that providing a free lunch to students will increase school attendance and lower the amount of child labor, street crimes and drug use around the slums. Furthermore, with a less urgent need to find money to buy a meal and an education that empowers youth to think independently, the ability for politicians to buy lives would become less likely.  Undugu’s free lunch program occurs in all its slum schools but funding is a constant worry and for many other Kenyan schools the only reason why no such program exists. Currently an effort is being made by USK and others to force the government to increase their (staggeringly low) allocation of funds towards youth and programs like “free lunch.” Nevertheless it is an uphill battle with a stubborn government.

Little Girl Eating

A hot meal at lunch time

Child Licking a Spoon

Perhaps we should ask Mr. Sandler to present the case in his way to parliament.

Posted By Brooke Blanchard

Posted Jun 19th, 2010


  • Renee milne

    June 19, 2010


    Free and reduced breakfast/lunch program is used quite a bit in my school all year. In the summer, our school district has two locations (schools) where students can stil get free and reduced breakfast and lunchu. Our numbers have increased the over the year due to the economy and many local layoffs. Education is the key and right first step, maybe some will find education more valuable, besides getting to eat. Once their basic needs are meant, educate the population!

  • Daniel

    June 21, 2010


    This reminds me of “Three Cups of Tea.” One of the arguments for building all of those schools in this region was to give another option for the children to recieve education, food, and shelter rather than just the Taliban schools.

  • Iain

    June 21, 2010


    Very interesting article and great pictures! It’s fantastic that something as cheap and simple as a free school meal can make all the difference to these childrens lives.

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