x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Emirati women run school canteens in bid to boost healthy living

Emirati women working in public school canteens

Initially a volunteer, Fatima Khatem has taken over the running of the canteen at Al Muqran School in Fujairah. Lee Hoagland / The National
Initially a volunteer, Fatima Khatem has taken over the running of the canteen at Al Muqran School in Fujairah. Lee Hoagland / The National

ABU DHABI // Emirati women are running school canteens in an initiative that embodies both Emiratisation and healthy eating habits.

Eighty women have already been offered contracts and the Khalifa bin Zayed Foundation for Humanitarian Works hopes the scheme can be expanded nationwide.

“This initiative is a new avenue for Emiratisation,” Ahmed Juma Al Zaabi, the deputy minister of presidential affairs and the foundation’s deputy chairman told Al Ittihad, the Arabic-language sister newspaper of The National.

“The project stems from the Khalifa bin Zayed Foundation’s determination to provide students with everything they need at school, including a safe and healthy environment that draws them to healthy meals, which would help them grow mentally and physically.

“Through this initiative, the Foundation aims to eradicate unhealthy eating habits at school, such habits that are responsible for causing widespread diseases among students, such as obesity and diabetes.”

The women will receive small salaries, about Dh1,000 a month, and the female staff dispensing meals to the pupils will be provided with free transport.

Many of the Emirati women involved in the project have already attended a workshop organised by the Khalifa Foundation, where they were taught about the importance of punctuality, personal hygiene and food packaging.

So far, the project is being implemented in 40 schools, with two members per school, in Dubai, Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Umm Al Quwain and Fujairah.

“We have received many requests from Emirati women to join the programme,” said Ruqiaa Gani, the coordinator of the initiative.

“We have put a few on hold for the second phase of the programme, which will involve more schools and, hopefully one day, private schools,”

An agreement has been reached with Al Ain Farms and the Emirates Cooperative Society to supply the revamped school canteens with juices, fresh dairy products and sandwiches for only Dh1 apiece.

The Ministry of Education issued guidelines last October discouraging the sale of processed food, including all types of fries, crisps and chocolates. They have been replaced by healthier food such as fruit and vegetables.

Jawaher Obeid, the principal of Ibn Al Nafees primary boys school, said pupils were enjoying the new canteen menus.

“Parents are also very happy that their children are offered healthier food and drinks,” she said.

“Now everything available is according to standards and has lower calories. Even the water offered is spring water. We don’t offer biscuits or chips any more and the juices are all fresh. Everything apart from the complete meals is Dh1.

“The meals come in packaged boxes and contain a sandwich, fresh fruit, milk and water. These cost from Dh3 to Dh5.

“We change our menus every week bearing in mind healthier products that the children enjoy.”

The Khalifa Foundation also offers Emirati students other forms of support.

More than 130,000 pupils in nearly 600 schools have benefited from daily allowances, free stationery and school uniforms, including shoes, shaylas and abayas, over the past five years.

ksinclair@thenational.ae