A student’s lunch at Institution Al Mansour/Photo by Corrine Schmaedeke
RABAT, Morocco — Every night, Fouzia Nader buys ingredients for two recipes, manages two sets of pans and dances around the kitchen, perfectly timing every simmering skillet and marinating meat.
After serving dinner, she splits the remaining food into thirds for lunch the next day, packing one portion into a blue superhero lunchbox for 7-year-old son Abdessamad Nader and another in a purple sparkly lunchbox for 4-year-old daughter Malak Nader. The third portion is wrapped in cellophane before the children’s mother runs her last errand of the day, slipping into the night to deliver the meal to a child who would otherwise go hungry come lunchtime tomorrow in Rabat’s old medina.
In Morocco, students are typically not fed lunches at school, except for at some expensive private schools. Instead, students are responsible for feeding themselves during the two-hour lunch break either by packing a lunch or going home to eat. This results in immensely different experiences between the students who have plenty of food at home and those who don’t.
Over the past 10 years, Morocco has dropped from a moderate to a low level of hunger on the Global Hunger Index (GHI), meaning fewer and fewer children are going to school hungry. Even though the country’s hunger levels are improving, Morocco is still working to improve its food standards in schools. In 2020, the North African country adopted a new program that aims to increase nutritional standards and address undernutrition in Morocco’s schools.
Translated from French, the plan states: “The health and well-being of individuals is based on the right of everyone, regardless of age, gender or place of residence, to a healthy and balanced diet.”
Malak and Abdessamad see identical pizzas or paninis when they open their lunchboxes — but lunchtime brings different feelings at their two schools. Abdessamad attends a private school in Rabat’s Ocean district, a neighborhood built under French colonial rule. Nestled in between residential apartment buildings and a market teeming with fresh fruit, the school is a 30 minute walk from the family home.
Malak attends the public primary school just down the street from her house, in the old medina. The children’s mother describes Abdessamad’s school as “big money” compared to Malak’s free public education and explains the financial difference in her children’s whole school experience, including their lunches.
Despite Morocco’s drop in child hunger, children increasingly fall on opposite ends of the hunger spectrum. Morocco’s income inequality remains the highest in North Africa, and even though the income gap seems to be closing nationwide, in Rabat, it is only increasing. This inequality is mirrored in education with a contrast between public and private schools.
Translated from French, a 2017 government report on inequality states: “The unequal aspect of education is amplified by the public/private school dichotomy.”
At Institution Al Mansour — Abdessamad’s private school — English teacher Laila Boutadla explained that most parents prefer to bring their children home to eat lunch together. The only time these students eat at school is when they file into the school kitchen as part of a cooking or baking lesson, donning matching red aprons and paper chef hats.
But if both parents work, their child stays at school to eat a packed lunch. If students who stay at school do not bring a meal, their parents are called to either deliver lunch or pick up the child. According to Boutadla, if parents don’t respond, a teacher will go out and buy food for the student.
“They have to eat,” said Boutadla. “Lunchtime is very important, especially for kids.”
At Malak’s school, Moulay Rachid Primary School, students are given 30 minutes to eat lunch before a two-hour afternoon rest period, according to Fatima Zahra, Malak’s teacher.
While some children begin lunch by eagerly unpacking their colorful lunchboxes, others have no lunchbox to unpack. Either their parents didn’t have time to prepare a meal — or there is not enough food at home. Still, Zahra explained that no students go hungry. At this school, classmates or teachers with food to spare each give up a piece of their lunch so every child can eat.
“Some kids do not have much food at home, so it’s a good time for them at school because they know they will eat something,” Zahra said through a translator.
Morocco’s National Nutrition Program addresses the need for nutritious school lunches by providing dietary guidelines in cafeterias at all school levels but has no provisions for implementing government-funded school lunches. In Boutadla’s opinion, government-funded lunches could create worse results for students.
“Children should have lunch at home with their parents. It is safer and cleaner,” Boutadla said. “Their parents will take care of them more than anyone else.”
Next year, when Malak will seriously begin learning to read and write, she will go to a “big money” school, leaving her current classmates and creating an even larger gap between her and the almost 1 in 10 students who reported being hungry every day in 2016. Her mother will continue to pack three lunches. But instead of Malak sharing the extras with classmates, the additional lunch will go to a neighborhood child while Malak sports an apron and chef hat matching Abdessamad and learns how to bake an extravagant cake.
Last updated February 2020