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Nutrition-Friendly Schools Initiative in the State of Palestine

This is a summary of a Field Exchange field article that was included in issue 66. The original article was authored by Selena Bajraktarevic, Kanar Qadi, Amani Badwan, Younis Awadallah and Rania Abueita.

Selena Bajraktarevic is Chief of the Health and Nutrition Programme with UNICEF, State of Palestine.

Kanar Qadi is a Health and Nutrition Specialist with UNICEF, State of Palestine.

Amani Jouda is the Maternal, Newborn and Child Health Project Manager at the UNICEF Gaza Field Office.

Younis Awadallah is a Health Specialist at the UNICEF Gaza Field Office.

Rania Abueita is a Project Coordinator with UNICEF’s local NGO partner.

This article describes the UNICEF-supported Nutrition-Friendly Schools Initiative, implemented in the West Bank and Gaza strip, which aimed to support the government to establish healthy dietary and physical activity habits and to improve the nutritional status of school-age children.

Key messages:

  • Contextualising Nutrition-Friendly School approaches and tailoring interventions towards the COVID-19 response achieved high coverage among school-age children.
  • The absence of a national protocol for adolescent nutrition posed a significant challenge to the early stages of implementation. However, the introduction of revised national nutrition protocols mitigated this challenge, highlighting the value of adolescent-specific public health and nutrition policies.
  • Inter-ministerial cooperation and the engagement of all relevant nutrition partners working within the health, education, protection and water, sanitation and hygiene sectors and communities were critical for the successful implementation of the initiative.

Background

Palestine is affected by a protracted humanitarian crisis. As a result, Palestinian children and adolescents face vulnerability to violence and hardship, with limited access to essential services including health, nutrition, education and safe water and sanitation. In 2018, the Nutrition-Friendly Schools Initiative (NFSI) was implemented with support from UNICEF. It aimed to support the Ministry of Education (MoE) and the Ministry of Health (MoH) to establish healthy dietary and physical activity habits and to improve the nutritional status of school-age children from the most vulnerable districts in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

The NFSI Programme

The programme aimed to strengthen the involvement of parents, families and communities, complementing formal ongoing school interventions and creating an enabling environment for sustainable positive change around nutrition and healthy lifestyles. As a package of interventions, the NFSI framework outlines 26 essential criteria within five broad components: school nutrition policies, school community awareness and capacity-building, nutrition and health-promoting curricula, supportive school environments for healthy nutrition and supportive school nutrition and health services.

As the State of Palestine (SoP) was the first country in the region to implement the NFSI, the international NFSI was adapted to the country context, translated into Arabic and endorsed by the MoE with support from a national NFSI steering committee. The steering committee included representatives from local and international partners including United Nations agencies, the MoE, the MoH, local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and others. The MoE, in coordination with a local NGO partner and the MoH, led the process and developed an action plan to support the implementation of the NFSI. The MoE also designed a practical manual that incorporated national objectives and the implementation strategy and guidelines.

The initiative was launched locally in 2018 and included an initial self-assessment conducted by 34 schools. The assessment was conducted to evaluate the needs of schools in relation to the 26 criteria within the NFSI. Based on this, the schools developed action plans outlining key activities to implement the NFSI criteria. This was followed by a capacity-building programme for teachers and school-aged children to develop school-based policies and action plans.

Key activities

As part of this initiative, UNICEF and partners supported the MoE to conduct a number of activities including:

More specifically, at school level several activities were conducted (as outlined in the action plans). Broad activities to support the NFSI included:

Communication-related activities included:

Special event-related activities included:

All activities were documented on a closed Facebook group for all the West Bank schools with 160 active members including school directors, teachers and health committees.

COVID-19 adaptations

Results                                                              

Successes, challenges and lessons learned

Successes

Challenges

Lessons learned

One of the most valuable lessons learnt during the NFSI implementation was the importance of inter-ministerial cooperation and the engagement of all relevant nutrition partners. Consultation workshops were frequently organised which enabled discussions on learnings and how to overcome any challenges. At the national level, a strategic consultation workshop took place entitled ‘Investment in Nutrition in Palestine’ during which the NFSI initiative was presented and discussed. This workshop resulted in key recommendations being incorporated in the Palestinian NFSI and considered for future phases.

Conclusion

UNICEF, the MoE, the MoH and nutrition partners were able to implement the NFSI activities to a high standard despite the challenging context within the SoP. In the coming years, UNICEF and national partners will look to expand implementation.  

For further information, please contact Selena Bajraktarevic at sbajraktarevic@unicef.org

Additional media content for the initiative can also be found via the following link:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/nutritionfriendlyschools/permalink/809959116176764/

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Selena Bajraktarevic, Kanar Qadi, Amani Badwan, Younis Awadallah and Rania Abueita (). Nutrition-Friendly Schools Initiative in the State of Palestine. FEX 66 Digest , March 2022. www.ennonline.net/fexdigest/66/nutritionfriendlyschoolsinitiative

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