MALNUTRITION in school children and its effects on education and the possible drafting of a legislation to counter this is the thrust of the
“#EndHunger” summit initiated by the Gawad Kalinga Community Development Foundation, Inc. at the Faber Hall of Xavier University, Cagayan de Oro City Tuesday, May 23.
With the theme, “Hunger ends where caring begins,” Gawad Kalinga's #EndHunger summit draws support from the local government units and private businesses like the Jollibee Group Foundation and Ateneo de Manila University. The summit is now in its Mindanao leg and has tapped impoverished schools in Northern Mindanao and the Lanao areas as its primary concern.
Mark Lawrence Cruz, the Gawad Kalinga Program and New Initiatives head, introduced their Kusina ng Kalinga feeding program to the community stakeholders who were present.
He said the program started in 2014 after the devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Yolanda. Initially, Gawad Kalinga wanted to help rebuild houses for the typhoon victims, but had seen the bigger problem brought by hunger among the children. It inspired them to design Kusina ng Kalinga that already helped hundreds of poor schools in the country with their school-based feeding program.
Cruz said they have successfully fed children all over the country who have gone stunted, underweight, or both due to hunger and lack of proper nutrition.
"The completion of the three meals a day means a lot of difference to these children," he said.
However, Cruz said that though their program has made a difference to the health of the children and to the communities, they have also seen inefficiencies in their design of school-based feeding.
"According to our data, even though the children become healthy in the months when we feed them in their schools on school days, they immediately become malnourished again after the two months of vacation. So, we need more than the feeding program. We need to inform the parents about the health of their children and finally make a national legislation against malnutrition to scale up the program," Cruz said.
Guest speaker, Senator Bam Aquino agreed that while volunteer groups such as Gawad Kalinga are making efforts to feed hungry school children, their efforts are still not enough to sustain nutrition.
The senator supports the program through his legislation entitled, the Pagkaing Pinoy Para sa Batang Pinoy Act. He said this will institutionalize an effective feeding program, sustained by local gardens, farmers and fishermen, and powered by community engagement and volunteerism to feed school children effectively.
"When our students are healthy and fed, they grow hungrier for knowledge and learning," Aquino said.
One testimony of the wonders of change that was brought by the Kusina ng Kalinga feeding program was given by Lydio Desmanos, the indigenous group tribal leader of Ezperanza in Sultan Kudarat.
Desmanos said his tribe was once driven to desperation because of hunger and poverty in the mountains.
In addition to that, their lack of educational qualifications hindered them to get jobs like others as only 2 out of 10 of their members usually graduate from school.
"Kahit mga pananim namin na hindi namin dapat kinakain, niluto na namin para lang makatawid kami sa gutom. May mga nag-isip na na ibenta ang mga lupa nila para may maipangtustos. Kung hindi dumating and Gawad Kalinga para bigyan kami ng pagkain, baka naging dayuhan na kami sa sarili naming lupa. Yung lang naman ang kahinaan namin, napag-iiwanan kami kasi hindi namin kaya mag-aral. (We even ate our crops even if we should not because we had to escape hunger. Some even thought of selling their lands so that they can have something to spend. If Gawad Kalinga did not come to feed us, we would have been foreigners on our own land. That's our only weakness, we get left out because we could not afford education)," Desmanos said.
The summit is set to continue on June in Albay.
Published in the SunStar Cagayan de Oro newspaper on May 24, 2017.