The barangay (village) called Tugop is an interior community 15 minutes away from the town proper of Tanauan, Leyte by habal-habal (motorcycle). This is a farming community where many of the inhabitants rely on farm products as source of income. Here, Volunteer for the Visayans (VFV) set up a Nutrition Project last June 1st and will continue for 4 months. It aims to address malnutrition in the community through provision of nutritious meals and health and nutrition education.
The Nutrition Project has enrolled 35 malnourished kids between 2 to 6 years old. These kids receive one healthy meal a day from Monday to Friday. Nutrition volunteers Clementine Ogier from France and Allyson Baden from the USA take charge of the project. With a daily budget of Php 600.00, they do everything, from choosing the menu to marketing and meal preparation. The meal is served at lunch. Before eating, the kids must wash their hands properly and once they are finished, they will brush their teeth. This daily routine will help the kids grow to have good habits.
The daily meal is insured to contain vitamins and minerals needed by these growing kids to improve their health. To add to that, these kids take vitamins each day. At the end of the project, these kids must no longer be considered malnourished. For the mothers, lectures are being delivered for their benefit. It is important to educate them and refresh their minds because they are the ones who look after the children. With enough know-how, they will be better equipped to see to their children’s health. To date, the mothers have been given a lecture on Reproductive Health. To follow are basic nutrition lectures which will be delivered by Clementine and Allyson weekly.
So what are the common issues at the project site? Although there are 35 kids enrolled in the project, generally only 25 kids come on a regular basis. For what reasons? Because the kids are quite young, some of them can’t come if their parents are busy with work and cannot accompany them. Sometimes a sibling would take the kid to the nutrition site but it doesn’t happen all the time. Other reason is the kid’s distance from the site. When the kid lives far from the site sometimes laziness takes over, hence he/she won’t come to get the food. The mothers of these kids are also scheduled to assist the volunteers in whatever needs to be done. Some mothers come on their schedule, some don’t because they also have work to do. So some days the volunteers are on their own. It is important that the mothers come to help and at the same time observe how the meals are being prepared.
On the side of the volunteers, some difficulties arise due to some issues. One of this is the language barrier. Speaking a different language from the locals can be challenging because it becomes difficult to communicate with them without having misunderstanding. The locals do tend to be shy particularly since Clementine and Allyson are new faces and they haven’t warmed up to the volunteers yet. Being new to the community, the volunteers barely know anything about it and its people. They have no idea how much the mothers know about nutrition. They don’t know what the families here normally eat. Simply put, they do not know the food culture in the community they work with. It affects how they prepare meals because they cannot be sure if the kids will eat the food. In terms of education, Clementine and Allyson do not know how much knowledge base the mothers have so they are afraid that a subject they will discuss with the mothers maybe redundant. They prepare the meals so they know how to budget for 35 kids but they won’t be able to suggest a budget for a family because each family has a different budget and number of members. Clementine and Allyson recommended having more detailed information about each new site and requiring all nutrition volunteers to have projects or outputs to keep them busy and focused all the time.
What do Clementine and Allyson like most about working in the Nutrition Project? They like the freedom given to them as volunteers in charge of the project. Indeed, the volunteers have free reign and can improvise and improve the project but their coordinator must also be consulted if they need some assistance. They like being engaged in the community and immersing in the local culture, getting to know the mothers and children. They love the kids! The house visits, whereby Clementine and Allyson come to the children’s homes to see their situation and try to understand how they live, are quite helpful. The mothers of the kids have started to warm up to the volunteers after the visits. They must have felt grateful to see the volunteers reach out to them and see how they are doing. Handwashing and brushing teeth are quite important for the children. The volunteers are happy to have imposed these on the children because these are very useful and can contribute to improving the children’s overall health.
Basically the Nutrition Project is installed to help the community, to empower the people in areas of health and nutrition. This will not happen overnight. Instead it will take some time, effort, patience, and dedication. Everyone must take part in this endeavor. Volunteer for the Visayans does it’s best to make the project work with the help of international volunteers who dedicate their time and share their knowledge. The community has accepted our help and they are very grateful that we have considered them among many other communities that are also in need. The mothers truly appreciate the project and admit that one sure healthy meal a day for their children is a huge help.
Those who are interested to contribute to the project can donate vitamins and other supplements for the children.