Fighting malnutrition with veggies
MANILA, Philippines – How can we feed more students?
“Plant vegetables in schools,” the Department of Education (DepEd) suggested.
To raise more awareness about health and nutrition – among students, teachers, and parents – DepEd implemented “Gulayan sa Paaralan.” (Vegetable gardens in schools). Here, crops harvested from school gardens are used to sustain the school’s feeding programs.
Children lacking proper nutrients have less energy, both physical and mental, hence are unable to fully participate in class. (READ: Learning on an empty stomach)
How it began
Gulayan sa Paaralan began in 2007, but it had a rough start.
Principals, school feeding coordinators, and agriculture teachers were put in charge.
“There was no budget given to us. The vegetables we use in feeding the kids came from the school garden,” recalled Priscilla Montano, a feeding coordinator from an elementary school in Cavite.
There were instances when schools had no crops. In order to feed the children, teachers had to use their own money.
In 2005, DepEd partnered with the International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR), which trained schools on how they can improve the Gulayan sa Paaralan program.
IIRR is an international non-governmental organization (NGO) which aims to fight poverty through community empowerment.
“Kahit anong laki, kahit anong liit ng area, kung wala yung dedication ng teacher, ‘yung para bang wala sa puso niya ‘yung pagtatanim, hindi rin makakapag-put up ng Gulayan Sa Paaralan,” June Roseti, agriculture teacher, said in a forum on agriculture education held May 5 in Cavite.
(No matter how big or small the garden is, if the agricultural teacher is not dedicated enough, there would be no school vegetable garden.)
Together with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST), IIRI continues to work with schools in Cavite in building greater agricultural knowledge and projects.
It hopes to expand its advocacy across more schools in the country.
The year was 1999, just one year away from the new millennium.
Fresh graduates at that time, like Roseti, were eyeing careers in the corporate world.
However, Roseti walked a different path: agriculture education. A career choice that was virtually unheard of at the time, and perhaps even until today.
Other than Roseti, there is only one other female agriculture teacher in Cavite. Although discouraged by the people around her, Roseti did not let go of her passion. (READ: Women in PH agriculture)
“Andoon ang interes ko. Andoon ang puso ko sa pagtatanim,” she said. (Gardening is my passion.)
Aside from agriculture, she is also interested in carpentry. One of her duties as an agriculture teacher is fixing broken things at school.
“Not everyone’s willing to spend time gardening. Some prefer playing computer games. While other teachers are not passionate enough for them to cultivate the garden,” she shared. (READ: Why PH agriculture is important)
“Marumi at mabigat na trabaho ang pagiging agricultural teacher. Ang katwiran ng ibang teacher, ‘Nag-aaral ako ng 4 years. Bakit pa ako hahawak ng lupa?”
(The job of an agricultural teacher is messy and heavy. Other teachers argued, “I studied for 4 years. Why would I even have to touch soil?)
Teachers like Roseti are given the task of motivating the youth to appreciate agriculture more.
A teacher’s advice
Roseti shared her ideas on how the Philippines can improve its agriculture education, and at the same time, address the nutrition problems among students.
First, the government should educate landowners and farmers across all provinces regarding their rights and responsibilities. Farmers deserve to be trained on the latest agricultural techniques, so that they may also end certain practices that are harmful to the environment. (READ: Davao goes green)
Second, monitor how “development” projects (i.e., construction of malls, subdivisions, condominiums, parking lots) compromise the nation’s food security. Agricultural lands are being sacrificed, but at what cost? (READ: Hungry homes in resettlement areas)
Third, lessen the workload of agriculture teachers. There are times when they cannot focus on the school gardens because of their heavy teaching load. Teachers of any kind deserve more support: compensations and benefits, training, and of course, respect. (READ: Teaching ways to fight hunger)
Last, give agriculture education more financial support. Seeds, tools, research – all these cost money. People already lack the motivation to study agriculture, they will be further discouraged if schools are underequipped. – Rappler.com