‘I sent my child to Camp Crame’

Fritzie Rodriguez

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‘I sent my child to Camp Crame’
'But even if a child is malnourished, it doesn’t mean that he has to be that way forever. Education can be his way out.'

MANILA, Philippines – Did you know there is a preschool right inside Camp Crame?

Every day Raymond Calirog goes to Camp Crame, the national headquarters of the Philippine National Police (PNP), with a lunchbox in hand and sometimes, art supplies.

Raymond is not a police officer, but a full-time dad. He volunteers at the preschool and serves as the vice-president of its parent-teacher association.

Raymond stands out as the only man closely involved with the daycare center. “Sa mga tatay, imposible na wala kayong oras sa anak n’yo. Tatatak ‘yan sa isip ng mga anak, na ‘di sila inasikaso ng tatay nila),” he said. (To fathers, it’s impossible not to have time for your kids. That will leave a mark on children, that they weren’t cared for by their dads.)

Naranasan ko ‘yun, ayoko maulit sa anak ko.” (I experienced that, I don’t want it to happen to my child.)

His wife is currently juggling work and studies, while Raymond focuses on their son. Some people find his family situation odd, but Raymond stressed that childcare should not be seen as a woman’s “job,” but as a responsibility of both parents.

Raymond hands over a sandwich to his son; he then proceeds to cleaning the playground. He does it quickly, so as not to get in the way of the running children.

The Camp Crame preschool is jointly managed by the PNP and the Nutrition Foundation of the Philippines (NFP), the country’s first non-governmental organization (NGO) engaged in community nutrition. NFP provides training to volunteer parents, while the PNP provided the space and covers its electricity and water bills. The rest of the daycare center’s needs are donated by parents.

What makes the preschool different from others is its emphasis on the importance of nutrition education through so-called “Nutrition and Health Kiddie Classes” (NHKC) designed by NFP.

Most, but not all, of the students enrolled in the Camp Crame preschool are children of police officers. It’s just one of the 10 preschools across Quezon City where NHKC is being conducted. NFP also operates NHKC among 16 barangays in Alaminos, Laguna. (READ: Kids who can’t enter kinder)

‘Kiddie classes’

NFP has been conducting NHKC among selected preschools since 1995.

In the beginning, the program was co-managed by another NGO, the Children’s Hour. Eventually, the program was turned over to NFP, which then partnered with the local social welfare and development offices of local government units (LGUs).

NFP trains parents to become nutrition teachers for their own children.

“The end goal is to turn over the NHKC program to the LGUs. Once they can sustain it on their own, we move on to other preschools or other LGUs,” said Eden Ruta, NFP nutritionist-dietitian. “This way, we can help more children.”

Since health and nutrition concepts can be quite difficult to digest, teachers are encouraged to come up with creative ways to engage children, such as story-telling, music, games, films, and field trips.

The classes aim to instill the following among children:

  • The importance of food in relation to health
  • Nutrition and anatomy
  • Personal hygiene
  • Environmental sanitation

Nutrition lessons are also integrated in activities which hone the children’s skills in reading, writing, art, and math. “For example, the drawings they make are about basic concepts like the go-grow-glow food groups,” shared Angielica Navasero, one of NFP’s trainers.

Since the parents themselves are trained to become teachers, they also get to learn more about proper childcare practices and food preparation.

In 2005, NFP conducted feeding programs for preschoolers. The meals were prepared by volunteer parents. The program, however, lasted for only two years.

“Feeding programs are not sustainable. The kids eat right at school, but eat poorly at home,” Navasero said. Since then, NFP decided to focus on nutrition education.

Volunteer teachers

Wilma Gragasin has been teaching at the Camp Crame preschool for nearly a decade. She was among the first batch of volunteer moms NFP trained.

She has 5 kids of her own, one of whom was a graduate of the Kiddie Classes.
She volunteers 5 days a week, with no compensation. “Walang bayad, pero naaliw ako sa pagtuturo. Hinahanap-hanap ko na, mas masarap dito kaysa sa bahay,” Wilma said. (No salary, but I like teaching. I yearn for it, it’s better here than at home.)

Before deciding to become a fulltime volunteer, Wilma worked as a janitress at an airport where she also met her husband. (READ: DepEd calls on parents to help cook school meals)

Who is a better student, parents or children?

For Wilma, both are good but children are more obedient. “‘Yung ibang nanay, kahit sigawan mo, maingay at ‘di nakikinig,” she quipped.

Ang mga bata, kahit hirap pa ‘yang i-pronounce ang ‘carbohydrates,’ nakikinig.” (Other moms are noisy and don’t listen even if you yell at them. The kids, even if they can’t pronounce ‘carbohydrates,’ they listen.)

She added that children pick up health concepts quickly, sometimes even faster than some parents. Both young and old, she said, have a lot left to learn.

Aside from “kiddie classes,” NFP also conducts nutrition classes for adults, especially among low-income communities.

A child’s poor nutritional status can be traced to a parent’s poor knowledge of health. “The effects of poor information is exponential,” Navasero argued. “But even if a child is malnourished, it doesn’t mean that he has to be that way forever. Education can be his way out.” — Rappler.com

How can we help fight hunger? Recommend NGOs, report what your school or LGU is doing, or suggest creative solutions. E-mail us at move.ph@rappler.com. Be part of the #HungerProject.

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