October 1, 2014

Roger Thurow - Leonida’s Education Priority

This post originally appeared on the Outrage and Inspire blog.

We’re excited to announce the launch of a new multi-part film series on Roger Thurow’s The Last Hunger Season. Now through October 16—coinciding with World Food Day 2014—we will be releasing two episodes from the series per week. Parts 5 and 6 are now available below. See all episodes.


During the hunger season, Leonida Wanyama not only struggled to feed her children. She also struggled to educate them.

For Leonida, putting her children through school was as important as putting food on the table. At the beginning of the year, she sold her entire maize harvest—which could have fed her family throughout the year—to raise money to pay the high school tuition for her son, Gideon. Gideon was in his third year of high school. Leonida desperately wanted him—her fourth child—to be the first in the family to complete secondary school.

At first, it seemed an unfathomable decision. Selling the harvest meant plunging the family back into another hunger season. But Leonida told me they could cope and somehow make it through; they always had. Yes, she said, the food would have likely satisfied the family for a year. The opportunity to have a high school graduate in the family, though, could yield lifetime benefits. Education of her children, she believed, was the steady, long-term route out of poverty.

The initial tuition payment, however, wasn’t enough to cover the entire year of schooling for Gideon. The principal would regularly send him home for more money to stay in school. Leonida and her husband continued to sacrifice; they sold their little plastic radio and some chickens and tightened their belts further. The deepening hunger season made it harder for Gideon’s three younger sisters to perform their best in school. How can you study on an empty stomach? But their mother said it would pay off in the long run: with a high school diploma, Gideon could get a better job, and he could then help put his sisters through high school.

In these next two videos, Leonida and her husband Peter emphasize the importance of education. And Gideon and his sister Jackline Sitawa, who is in eighth grade and hoping to follow her brother into high school, explain what it is like to be teenagers during the hunger season, how they yearn to accomplish something in school, and achieve a better life even as the food on the table dwindles.



The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


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