“Kids sometimes take leftovers to school for lunch: frikandel or cold fries”

At half past seven in the morning, parents advisor Rashida Azouzi, 53, opens the door of Castell Spangen Primary School in Rotterdam. Her working day begins already after an hour. But now she also makes a healthy breakfast for the kids, so she has to get up early to make bread.

By eight in the morning, five mothers and Rashida Azouzi had gathered around a table. Seventh-group twins come to help. A large stack of brown cheese sandwiches is placed in several plastic bowls. Then follow the sandwiches with chocolate spread and jam. Milk cartons. Orange and tangerine. An apple.

Before summer vacation, Castle Spangen spent a month researching whether breakfast was needed at school. Now 120 of 235 children use it. Azouzi stresses that not all of these 120 grow up in poverty. But if kids whose parents only have a little money eat breakfast, that’s a disgrace. So breakfast is available to everyone.”

In this area, Delfshaven, the children of three other elementary schools receive breakfast in class. For half of the children in an estimated 100 primary schools in Rotterdam, the financial problems at home are so great that sometimes their parents can no longer pay for their groceries. Or an energy bill or rent. This is evidenced by the calculations of the Youth Education Fund, which uses the definition of “relative poverty”: more than 120 percent of the social assistance benefit (about 2,000 euros net for a couple with two or more children, including allowances).

According to Chairman Hans Spekmann – a former PvdA deputy and party chair – this applies to 1,800 of the more than 7,000 primary schools in the Netherlands. These schools are allowed to request €10,000 annually from the fund for simple interventions that improve the life of a pupil or group of students. Bed, breakfast packages and bike. 445 affiliated schools. There is a waiting list.

It was announced last week that an 11-year-old student at De Catamaran Primary School in Rotterdam became dizzy from starvation in class. It turned out that he had not eaten for three days. Money ran out. No one knew that at school until he was fine. Then someone from the school quickly – and discreetly – ran the errands for the family.

Nine parties in the House of Representatives asked questions about the boy. Minister Carola Skoten (Poverty Policy, Kristinoy) said her officials immediately checked primary schools where there are students whose poverty at home is so great that it comes at the expense of buying food. And whether breakfast can be served in those schools in a short time. But Schouten added that halving child poverty – the ambition of the Rutte 4 government – “would be difficult”.

The poverty line

Due to high inflation and energy prices, 6.7 percent of the population now lives below the poverty line, according to the Central Planning Bureau (CPB). That percentage should drop to 4.9 percent from the start of next year due to measures announced during Budget Day for low-income earners, according to the Office of Central and Social and Social and Cultural Planning (SCP) in an exploration published Tuesday. The minimum wage, social assistance and state pensions will increase by 10 percent in January. Allocations for health care and housing will rise as well as the budget for the child. Without these measures, more than 9.5 percent of children will live below the poverty line next year.

Speakman says that for the provision of breakfast in five hundred of the poorest schools, over the next three months until purchasing power measures come into effect, 4 million euros will be needed. Details are not clear yet. However, this money is being released and that we will be using it for the very short term,” a Scotten spokesperson said.

120 out of 235 students eat breakfast at Kasteel Spangen Primary School.
Photo by Sanne Donders

Poverty has been present in Rotterdam for much longer. So social workers who work in schools are not surprised by reports of hungry students. Yes, there has been more since inflation and energy bills have skyrocketed, says Lake Walraven, a social worker at CSBO Bergkristal in north Rotterdam – a primary school for children who need extra support. But it is not new.

In her school, 60 out of 102 students grow up below the poverty line. De Bergkrystal uses a “strict definition of poverty,” adds Hans Spekmann, who is visiting in his capacity as head of the Youth Education Fund. “You really have to die with them to be counted among the ‘poor’. In fact, you also have to count the fathers who work and who manage to live frugally. The people who run their affairs on very low incomes.”

There is a lot of tension. I now meet parents who live every day

Lake and Raven Primary school social worker

For kids to work at school, kids need a good night’s sleep (bed and silence), breakfast, and space to move outside and be stress-free, Leakey and Alraven explain. “There is a lot of tension. I now meet two parents who are alive every day.” Walraven makes a home visit to all students in the school in order to gain the trust of parents. She also stands outside the school door every morning. She knows the way to many funds and organizations that can help.

Read also The student fell in Rotterdam – from starvation

Children without a bed

Speakman also wasn’t surprised by the growing group of kids not eating in the morning. Or those who don’t have a bed to sleep in. One in twenty children in the Netherlands does not own a bed. They sleep on the floor. There is a world in Holland that is very big. Most people don’t see them. It affects the lives of children.”

Such parents do not work or, on the contrary, work a lot – at night or in the evening – for low pay. In home care, catering, cleaning, and security. Speakman: „There is constant pressure at home about money. This was already the case before inflation, but this group is now growing. If a parent needs more help, you should be there for them. They sometimes have large debts. What do you do if you suddenly receive an invoice: 2000 euros surcharge? “

In some neighborhoods where the Youth Education Fund helps, this is also unsafe. Drug irritating, parents with loose hands. Parent counselors and school social workers make home visits to students. But sometimes the cops, because they know it, say: “It’s not safe out there. There’s an addiction problem behind it. Be careful or don’t pass.”

Parents advisor Rachida Azouzi in Spangen, who has worked in different schools, has seen in recent years that there have been children without a lunch box. “They got a sandwich from a colleague. Or had some with them, but they were leftovers: frikandel or cold fries.” She holds her heart for the foreseeable future. “People who are already tight, it will be more difficult next time. They cut back on everything and the kids will feel the following: food, clothes, gym.”

When the sandwiches are gone and lessons begin, she drinks coffee with other moms. Because of the bond of trust she has, they tell her if there are problems. Azouzi tries to help or refer them. She talks about schemes like energy allowance that people can apply for. “Often they have already done it, or their children have already said it, but there are always some who don’t know.”

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