Fighting malnutrition in Smokey Mountain
MANILA, Philippines - Bhaby Vera wakes up at 3 in the morning every day to ride a jeep to Divisoria and buy food for a day’s work.
Besides running her own carinderia, she also prepares 140 meals weekly for the Combat Malnutrition program of Young Focus. It is an NGO that focuses on education and health for children and young adults in the Sitio Damayan area of Tondo, Manila, also known as Smokey Mountain 2 (The original Smokey Mountain closed in 1996).
By 7:30 am, she is in the kitchen in their student center and begins prepping, chopping, and cooking her ingredients. Today’s menu: buko juice and cupcakes for the morning and fish omelets served with rice and papaya for lunch. They will feed 28 malnourished children as part of the Young Focus Education and Development Program.
Bhaby is one of 3 other staff members who alternate preparing the food each week. When they are not in the markets and in the kitchen, they work at the Child Care Center built on the dumpsite where the food is delivered twice a day – one at 9:30 for the morning snack and 11am for lunch.
Launched last September 2013, the Combat Malnutrition program targets malnourished children ages 1 to 6 years old. A menu designed by nutritionist Carmencita Magsaysay features a two-week cycle of meals that is changed every month.
“I was told that two years ago, the Child Care Center of Young Focus started feeding selected children of dumpsite scavengers in Smokey Mountain. The beneficiaries were identified malnourished and fed with rice porridge and milk daily for 5 days a week,” Magsaysay explained.
Past efforts by Young Focus to address malnutrition yielded poor results with the children showing little or no progress in weight gain. This time, however, the menu presents a varied range of dishes that includes a balanced meal of carbohydrates, protein, fruits, vegetables, and more milk.
Empowering the parents
The new feeding program relies heavily on parent participation.
“We have seen many feeding programs and struggled with the approach of merely distribution of food. We choose the format of involving the mothers in the program and want to see it combined with a strong educational character,” said Paul van Wijgerden, Young Focus managing director.
This is why every week, meals are prepared by one cook and one mother whose child is a beneficiary of the program. Besides assisting in the food preparations, the mothers are required to attend training sessions on health and hygiene conducted by Magsaysay and Young Focus staff.
By showing mothers that nutritious meals can be prepared easily and with affordable ingredients, the program continues at home. The goal is to empower mothers to feed their children affordable nutritious meals.
New program, new challenges
It’s getting the full commitment of the mothers which has proven to be the most challenging. It is common for parents to be absent during meetings and training sessions, while others sometimes forget to pick up their children from the day care center.
The children are also adjusting to the new menu. Some of them find it difficult to finish a full meal as it takes some time for toddlers used to eating so much less to regain their appetite.
If not for the feeding program, these children would be fed only once a day. A typical meal consists of rice and coffee plus sugar that can be bought for P2 a pack in the local sari-sari store. Soy sauce is also taken as soup, and when money is available for a pack of instant noodles, the noodles are shared with the family.
Life on Smokey Mountain is a day-to-day struggle and food security comes only when parents are able to earn enough money from a day’s work scavenging through the dumpsite or making charcoal. Often once the child is old enough – some as young a 3 years – they too join their parents in the daily dig through Metro Manila’s waste.
While Young Focus seeks to include more children in the program, there is a proper screening process that families and children must go through. This is to determine if the child is malnourished and to assess if families are committed to the program. Young Focus conducts interviews, house visits, and medical check-ups.
The Combat Malnutrition program is still in its early phases. This month the children will undergo a medical check-up to track their progress. With a budget of P6,000 - 7,000 a month for food and only 28 children in the program, Young Focus wants to expand the program in the coming months.
Wijgerden said he hopes the program can grow to include around 75 children with a budget of P2,000 a day for food. – Rappler.com
For more information on how you can help kids in Smokey Mountain visit the Young Focus website.