5 April 2013
Shu’fat camp, East Jerusalem
Thanks to a new health-eating initiative, thousands of students visiting a school canteen in Shu’fat refugee camp, East Jerusalem, are now treated daily to a nutritious, delicious menu that both improves performance in class, and the likelihood of future health.
A diverse range of options including popcorn, steamed beans, pizza, homemade traditional flatbreads, and even a healthy chocolate cake are part of a pilot project aiming to serve the healthiest possible food in UNRWA schools. The Healthy Canteen Initiative was introduced to this Shu’fat school in 2012 by UNRWA with help from the Juzoor Foundation for Health and Social Development and the French Social Development Fund.
The initiative is part of a drive by UNRWA and its partners to encourage good health among the Palestine refugee community, against a historic rise in diabetes and high blood pressure.
The initiative’s goal is to improve the lifestyle of students by including the community in a discussion about healthy lifestyles and food. UNRWA refurbished the school canteen and a local women’s centre in Shu’fat, and organised workshops on healthy living for local people.
“We aim to implement a lifestyle change for UNRWA students. This includes the modification of behavior, which takes time”, says Dr. Elias Habash of UNRWA’s Health programme. “Our focus is on improving habits, as well as providing our students with the best food possible.”
“It’s healthy, but it’s also tasty”
The school canteen now serves homemade, not processed, food to approximately 1,200 students every day. In addition to ridding the school canteen of junk food products such as heavily processed chips and sweets, the school’s health tutors have initiated a school-wide information campaign about the benefits of healthy eating.
“Our main objective is to provide our students with healthy food”, says school principal Mustafa. “Children will be children, and we still see students bringing in junk food from home. But the important thing is that none of these items are available for purchase on school grounds.
“Not only that, but through the informational campaigns initiated by our teachers, most of our students have effectively changed the way they view food, and the importance of healthy consumption.”
Student Lara, aged 15, is happy with the new menu. “All of us now buy food from the canteen. It’s healthy, but it’s also tasty!”
Healthy eating, help for local families
With enthusiastic take-up from students, the initiative makes a profit for those in need of financial support in the community. Every day, the food for the school canteen is prepared at the women’s centre in Shu’fat camp, which provides vocational opportunities for financially-vulnerable women.
Hanan, a 41-year-old mother from the camp, recently started work in the kitchen as part of the initiative, and is proud to be involved. “This was my first job; once my youngest started school, I decided to help with my family’s financial situation”, she says. “The feeling I get from being able to help my family is fantastic.”
After an overwhelmingly positive response from the local community in Shu’fat refugee camp, the Healthy Canteen Initiative is soon to be rolled out to selected UNRWA schools in the West Bank.
As part of its ongoing efforts to improve the health of Palestine refugees in its five fields of operation, UNRWA is marking this year’s World Health Day with the launch of “Life is Sweeter with Less Sugar”; a diabetes and high blood pressure awareness campaign to improve the detection and treatment of both diseases among community members.
more about the “Life is Sweeter with Less Sugar” campaign.