Saving Sitio Pintor’s hungry children

Jodesz Gavilan
How can a community with not too many opportunities save its hungry children? Good Neighbors International Philippines is doing its share.
FEEDING WITH LEARNING. Parents of beneficiaries take part by volunteering in the kitchen. All photos by Jodesz Gavilan/Rappler  Jodesz Gavilan

MANILA, Philippines – Amid garbage trucks, noisy quarry sites, and a Payatas-like landfill in a remote area, children are trying to achieve more than their daily circumstances would allow them.

Their efforts to be achievers are hindered by existing conditions caused by poverty.

Sitio Pintor in Rodriguez, Rizal, is a good 30-minute ride through steep mountain terrains from the barangay proper. If one chooses to walk, it will take more than an hour to traverse the dusty roads.

There are tricycles that can be hired to ease the travel time, of course. But for a community that worries about where to get the money for the day’s meals, the one-way fare of P100 ($2) is already too much.

Trucks to school

The persistence of elementary and high school students pushes them to find other ways to attend class. For them, the huge trucks that often pass by their area are considered their “saviors.”

Community leader Christina Diesta recalled how the children hitchhike with 6-wheeler vehicles from their roadside houses to their schools despite the obvious dangers.

Sasabit na lang sila lagi sa mga truck kahit delikado kasi wala naman silang ibang choice eh,” she told Rappler. “Kapag walang-wala talaga, kahit ano na gagawin para lang makapasok sa eskwelahan.” (They’ll cling on to the trucks even if it’s dangerous because they really don’t have a choice. If you really have nothing, you’ll risk anything just so you can get to school.)

Ones left behind

As the older children spend their time in school, the younger ones are left in their communities. They are often left unattended to as their parents work in the nearby landfill trying to make ends meet.

Just like any kids their age, they find happiness in playing with their friends outside their homes. In this case, however, danger lurks in every corner making it more risky for them.

They used to have no choice. Save for establishments related to rampant quarrying in the area, there is not much to be expected from the underdeveloped area.

SAFE PLACE. The younger children in Sitio Pintor find a safe place in a learning center of GNIP.

Fortunately, Good Neighbors International Philippines (GNIP) saw the need for a safe place for children. In 2009, the non-governmental organization opened its first Community Development Project (CDP) in the area.

Under the CDP is a learning center where kids of preschool age are enrolled. In nearby areas, GNIP was able to establish 3 centers that cater to more than 100 children. Each is situated in key areas where the majority reside.

However, unlike common preschools in the country, the benefits from the center go beyond the 4 walls of the classroom.

Aside from teaching the monthly-determined lessons to students, the teachers’ duties also include making sure that they are able to grasp the idea of child rights, nutritious meals, and the importance of community contribution to their journey to better living.

Analisa Simeon has been teaching in the area since 2009 and is witness to the cruel reality the children go through.

Kapag binisita mo iyong mga bahay nila at nakita ang situation nila, talagang malulungkot ka eh,” she told Rappler. “Kaya bilang teacher, mararamdan mo na may mas malaki ka pang responsibilidad.” (If you visit their homes and see their situations, you’ll really feel sad. So as a teacher, you’ll feel that you have a bigger responsibility.)

The educators of GNIP’s learning centers work from Monday to Friday. But instead of taking time to rest on Saturdays, they go to the market to buy ingredients for the following week’s set of meals for the children.

Sometimes it’s rice meals and some days it’s macaroni soup, but one thing is for sure – they have to be nutritious to help malnourished children recover.

Involving the parents

The teachers are not alone as they are helped by family members of their students.

GNIP’s CDP employs a holistic approach and believes that the environment affects their own development. Through this, it is important that the members of the community – especially the parents of the children – are aware of how they can sustain whatever progress is achieved. 

KITCHEN DUTIES. Parents say the menial task of cooking food for the children is not enough for them to express their thanks.

Every morning, Crisales Cargando goes to the center and retreats to the little kitchen adjacent to the room to help cook the food for her 5-year-old child and his classmates. This, for her, is just a small thing compared to the big opportunity given to her child.

Malaking tulong po talaga dahil marami ang hindi na nakakapag-aral kasi walang malapit na preschool dito,” she explained. “Itong pagluluto ang tanging paraan namin para kahit papaano makapag-thank you kami sa NGO.” (It’s really a big help since not many are able to go to school because there is no preschool here. My cooking is the only way for us to at least express our thanks to the NGO.)

With only her husband’s small income as a market vendor, it was near impossible for Cargando to support her 4 children with enough resources.

Iyong pagkain pa lang namin kasi hindi na namin maisip kung saan huhugutin,” she told Rappler. “Kahit papaano dahil libre sa pagkain at pag-aaral iyong isa kong anak, nababawasan ang problema namin.” (We really don’t know where to get our food. So since one of our children receives free education and food, our problem is lessened.)

The parents are also encouraged by GNIP to help by coming up with projects that can be implemented for the community – from livelihood opportunities to infrastructure that can ease their otherwise stressful lives. (READ: Community-level approach: Answer to PH property?)

Clean water

The Sitio Pintor community recently had water pumps installed in their area. After many years of braving the steep and deep ditch just to get to a water source, they now only have to walk a few steps to get clean water. 

Hindi pa minsan sigurado kung malinis ang mga tubig na iyan kaya itong mga bata dito nagkakasakit ng diarrhea,” Cargando said. “Buti ngayon nandito na iyong malinis na tubig kasi malaking kaginhawaan ito.” (We’re not even sure how safe the water was before, so many of the children suffered from diarrhea. Good thing that we have clean water now so it’s a big relief.)

Together with other members of the community, they make up the Community Development Council (CDC) which oversees the implementation of activities and different projects like water pumps. 

FOR THE FUTURE. Children are oriented on the proper health and nutrition.

The mothers all said that they see progress in their children’s overall disposition since they started going to the learning center. They are now more jolly, active, and healthy. But much more needs to be done for them to maintain this.

The community has a long way to go before it can truly get away from impoverished situations. It will need more effort from not just kind-hearted NGOs, but also from the local government unit. (READ: How can LGUs help prevent hunger?) – 

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.