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Russia: hot meals in Novostroy

23-11-2005 Feature

Since 2000, the ICRC and the Russian Red Cross have been supplying hot food to 500 schoolchildren, a lifeline for a community in one of the country's poorest republics also affected by the violence in Chechnya. ICRC employee, Zumrud Magamedeva reports.


  ©ICRC / ru-e-00344.    
    We drive to Novostroy in Daghestan through a landscape of monotonous desert, the wind driving sand against the car windows.
It is here in the late 1990s that many Laki people resettled after being displaced by the return of families removed from Daghestan and Chechnya decades ago. Here, they have been struggling ever since where jobs are few and schools are about the only functioning institutions.
We are visiting Novostroy to see how over the past five years the IC RC and Russian Red Cross have been providing meals for 500 schoolchildren. The food is prepared in the biggest school and distributed to another two.
The children eat intently, barely noticing strangers with cameras. Asked if he likes his soup, one boy replies, “Very much so!”, and instantly forgets the group of ICRC and Russian Red Cross visitors.
A young girl with more time invites us to one of the settlement’s modest households. The doormat is cut from an old humanitarian aid blanket. The head of the family cannot find a permanent job. His wife is disabled but receives no allowance as poor health has prevented her from completing the necessary formalities. Their only income is a pension received by a 14 year-old son who does not attend school because he is almost completely deaf and dumb.
Hot meals at school for the girl and her sister are a great support for the family, according to their mother. The facilities there are gradually improving. Until recently the school cooks had to fetch water from the street, and children had to go out into the courtyard to wash their hands. Thanks to the restoration work carried out in spring and summer, water now comes directly to the kitchens and canteens, wash basins have been installed for the children, and sewerage problems have been resolved.
While children are fed by the Red Cross, the adults struggle to survive. They have started to import fertile soil and fruit transplants in the hope of turning the settlement into a blooming orchard. But the elders continue to doubt whether this inhospitable land will yield anything…