The Day Care Center in Pulong Visaya, Philippines has provided a place for the hamlet’s preschool-aged children to learn and play, but its ability to offer youngsters regular nourishing meals often fell short of the success it found elsewhere. For most of the ten years it has served the community, the meals offered were supplied by government-run feeding programs. “They only had bread and juice, [perhaps] porridge or boiled bananas.” says one local mother. “Soups, eggs, rice, and instant noodles with moringa [an edible, fern-like plant] leaves were sometimes served, but very seldom.”
The Center’s lack of food was reflective of the tables throughout Pulong Visaya. Many families have to ration their meals carefully to ensure it lasts as long as possible. “[At minimum], a child should have at least 20 spoonfuls of rice each meal,” says Emelyn, a 30-year-old member of the hamlet’s Outreach-affiliated community group, known colloquially as “SBPPV.” Emelyn is also the mother of four children, ranging in age from 1 to 7, all of whom have attended the Center. Based on the average amount of food a family in the area has available, “Some parents can only allow each child approximately five spoonfuls of rice per meal. They have to do this for everyone to eat.”
With so little nutrition provided during their first years, local children were prone to chronic illness, and easing parents’ concerns about developmental impacts on growth and cognition was proving unworkable without a centralized, community-backed initiative.
“The primary reason for the Feeding Program was to provide additional food for kids who attend the Day Care Center,” says Emelyn, who, along with nearly every other mother of a child in the community, met to plan and execute the entirety of the Feeding Program as an SBPPV-run, Outreach-facilitated undertaking.
Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough
Much like portioning out meals at a dinner party, the details were only a matter of dishing out equal shares: Every parent agreed to help twice a month, rotating in teams of two. Two parents per day were assigned to handle cooking duties for the children, as well as ensuring all 20 students were served a meal, and all that the dishes were clean for the next day’s duo. If an assigned parent had to be absent, a system was put in place to ensure a replacement was present. Plan in place, the parents worked together to gather the utensils the children would use, as well as the firewood necessary to begin cooking.
This was two years ago. As soon as it began, the Feeding Program proved a success for the children, as well as the community members responsible for implementing it. Emelyn’s children are emblematic of the Program’s results: “They are more active, now. They aren’t hungry when they come home from school, and have more energy to play and do homework,” she says.
“They are able to eat different kinds of foods as part of complete meals in the Day Care Center. They get to taste very rare foods like spaghetti and fruit salad.” Before the Feeding Program, “these children used to taste meat once a week,” she says. It is now a regular part of their diet, enjoyed multiple times a week.
Healthy, happy kids are as satisfying and hopeful an outcome as one could hope for a community-run Feeding Program, but the benefits extend to older generations, too. Emelyn explains how having her children return from school still full from their lunches means their dinner portions are smaller, allowing Emelyn, her husband, and their older children larger, more nutritious nightly meals.
The money that parents previously used to pay for the government-subsidized school meals now goes to a food allowance fund for older children to spend at their own schools, and to provide 20 months of training and salary for a teacher. Furthermore, the community agreed to supply meals to some local children who do not attend the Center.
“We allow them to eat with the students because we know that they really have nothing,” says Emelyn of children from outside the Center’s student body. “Sometimes, when students from the Center are absent from class, there is more than enough food to go around.” Even when there isn’t, the parents in charge for the day make sure everyone gets enough to eat.
Complements to the Chef
Most SBPPV members are parents, so it was important to them that unlike other feeding projects, the Center’s parents were involved in decision-making and management, from menu preparation to purchase and preparation of meal ingredients. Besides spreading the feeling of empowerment to everyone, taking an active role ensured that the Program would avoid the problems encountered when others were in charge, like the time an entire month’s supply of food was delivered at once, despite the absence of freezers in the community in which it could be stored.
Outreach Philippines and SBPPV continue to build better lives through community-run projects and the spirit of hope that permeates every step of a successful process. Emelyn’s tenacity and gratitude are a major component of her success, and come through in the words she wants to share with every Outreach supporter: “Thank you very much to all who made this project possible. I hope that you continue with your support as we also continue to carry on with our responsibilities to make this project sustainable.”
You’ve got it, Emelyn. Keep stirring the pot!
PS: For a gift of $15, you can buy feeding utensils for a child in need. Give now.