MANILA, Philippines – In a survey conducted in 6 schools in Norzagaray, Bulacan, the malnutrition rate is pegged at an alarming rate of 14%.
The national figures even offered a more grim image: according to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) in 2013, 20% of preschool-aged children in the Philippines are underweight, while 30.3% are stunted.
With this figures, how can advocates start the fight against hunger in schools?
This is the question that Gawad Kalinga’s (GK) “Kusina ng Kalinga” project aims to address. Specifically, the goal of the project is to nourish elementary public school students in Norzagaray, Bulacan by providing them nutritious in-school lunch meals to be distributed to 4 beneficiary schools for 120 days.
“Hunger plays a key role in making our students stay in school. Most drop-outs are [caused by] hunger. At first level, we are addressing that with this partnership, but at a more macro and lasting one, we are actually addressing education itself," Gawad Kalinga executive director Jose Luis Oquiñena said.
According to GK, at least 1,500 public school children are going to benefit from this project, with student recipients ranging from kindergarten to Grade 3. The program is targeting the age gap of children most vulnerable to malnutrition. (READ: Why are feeding programs important in the fight vs hunger?)
"It’s not just about every meal we give to the children, it’s an opportunity for these children to be on the platform for education," Oquiñena added.
The plans were officially cemented on Wednesday, May 30, in a ceremony for the signing of the memorandum of agreement. Stakeholders involved were Oquiñena, representatives from Republic Cement Services Inc and members of the Norzagaray government. Republic Cement, a cement manufacturing and distribution company, is supporting the project by funding the building of a central kitchen in Timoteo Policarpio M. Elementary School. It will be providing funds of about P3 million to P4 million for the project.
Once the kitchen is completely constructed, feeding will begin in July.
Highway to health
Kusina ng Kalinga’s first kitchen in Batangas was launched in June 2017. In just 5 months, they were able to reduce the malnutrition rate of 11% to zero among the beneficiary schools.
Taking off from the success of their Taysan location, the Bulacan Kusina was established to address the malnourishment problem in Norzagaray.
Preliminary measures are also being executed to make the program top-down cohesive. The children are set to be dewormed and will be weighed for the BMI measurements to serve as a post-evaluation of the program’s effectiveness.
Kusina ng Kalinga multitasks its nutrition agenda by also supporting the existing farmers of Norzagaray. Around 90 households in Barangay San Mateo were tapped to supply vegetables and livestock for the kitchen’s inventory.
“Sustainability is one of the most important elements in the Kusina ng Kalinga project,” said Nabil Francis, president of Republic Cement. “In the long run, we want to empower our community partners to be self-sustaining and become stronger catalysts of progress within their respective communities.”
While the central kitchen will be set up at the Timoteo Policarpio M. Elementary School, students from other schools like the Banahaw Elementary School, Apugan Elementary School, and Bigte Elementary School will also be involved.
The meals to be served will be malunggay-based, rotating 24 recipes for variety.
GK is also partnering with the local government units (LGUs) in the logistics and distribution of the meals throughout the schools.
Ultimately, the project aims to make a dent in the worsening problem of hunger in the country. (READ: PH 'not performing well' in fight vs different forms of malnutrition)
Studies have shown that, as children grow older, the chances of being malnourished become even more likely. In the same study by FNRI, it reported that 3 out of 10 children ranging from 5 to 10 years old were found to be underweight and stunted.
In another study by Save the Children, countries with higher rates of child mortality were usually found among disadvantaged groups, especially poor families and ethnic minorities. In the Philippines, the “under-5” mortality rate stands at 28%, where the poorest children are 3 times as likely to die before age 5 as the wealthiest. (READ: Philippines losing over P220 billion a year due to child undernutrition – report)
As the numbers of malnutrition rise, the swelling inflation could even worsen the hunger problem of Filipinos. Senator Sherwin Gatchalian, the chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs convened the committee last March to tackle the rising inflation caused by the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion Law (TRAIN), and its effect on the ability of Filipinos to provide food for the family.
"The biggest component of the inflation we are experiencing now involves food prices. This is a cause for concern because studies show that higher inflation, especially if driven by rising food prices, is related to higher hunger incidence among the poor and working-class sectors,” said Gatchalian.
“We need to identify and implement a strong plan of action to get this inflation under control and make sure our countrymen have enough food to put on the table for their families,” he added. – Rappler.com
Luisa Jocson is a Rappler intern. She is taking up AB Communication at the Ateneo de Manila University.