HUNGER still stalks many of our countrymen. It is particularly destructive with our children who, because of poverty, do not get enough to eat, become vulnerable to disease and exploitation and end up unhealthy, uneducated and unhappy. Uneducated because the need to eat superimposes itself over everything, so that all their waking hours are spent looking to satisfy hunger, eschewing going to school. Unhappy because in the long run, without education, there will be a long, hard climb to get a job; most of all, a job that will provide a decent livelihood.
Thank goodness to recent-past and present administrations that they have recognized this sad reality and come up with the Conditional Cash Transfer Program that—from reports—is being managed competently and honestly, and is really helping the poorest of the poor.
But there are still many poor children who are hungry, and because of the circumstances of their lives where hunger is a leading factor, do not go to school.
Senator Grace Poe, a presidential candidate in the last elections, had on her campaign platform the establishment of a feeding program for children in the initial and early years of going to school. Recently, Sen. Miguel Zubiri has declared that he will file a bill for a nationwide feeding program in grade schools.
This idea should come to be passed in a law, with a budget so that it will become an established reality in our society.
A feeding program that can provide at least one healthy meal a day for children who go to school will be a boon both for the child and his family as well as for the schools. The feeding program could be a learning experience for the parents (who should be drafted to help prepare it) by giving them a pragmatic example of how to prepare the right ingredients taken from our plant and animal resources that will provide the sustenance, which children need to grow and to study. Providing a meal will keep the children in school and, thus, promote universal education among them.
Some private schools, foundations and other charities are already engaged in feeding programs for children. They provide healthy meals using local ingredients like monggo (mung bean), winged beans, some fish and meat in modest proportions together with rice. And at times fruits like bananas and other available and affordable kinds that are in season.
These meals make a world of difference. They stimulate the children to go to school, keep them from feeling hungry, make them alert to the lessons and activities at hand in the school. They also relieve parents for one meal so they can lessen some stress in their lives.
A nationwide feeding program would be a tremendous leap forward toward millennium goals of education and health. It will be a huge undertaking requiring a large budget, relatively speaking. But it can be done modestly and effectively if managed well. So far, the DSWD, which is handling the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, has been doing a creditable job. Anecdotal evidence shows poverty-stricken families in cities and rural areas getting the monthly subsidy that keeps them alive in health and hope. With its current experience, DSWD can tackle a feeding program in coordination with the Department of Education. Or, the Department of Education with the advice and experience of DSWD on the Conditional Cash Transfer Program can manage the feeding program in the schools. Local government units can be part of this.
If there’s need to be an introduction of a nationwide feeding program by stages, perhaps the first stage should be in Mindanao, where poverty rates and school dropout rates are higher. The evacuation centers should be targeted. The uplands, the coasts and the river deltas, wherever people live, should have feeding programs via the schools. Eventually, the program should expand to the Visayas and Luzon, where they, too, have high poverty rates as in the Cordilleras, the Bicol Region and Eastern Visayas, especially in areas where typhoon Yolanda created death and destruction.
If one observes the few feeding programs that are established in some schools and see the effect on their beneficiaries, one will be convinced that under current poverty and hunger conditions, this is one good, effective and compassionate way to go.
Legislators, please work to achieve what is desperately needed by our hungry children.