Pandemics expose many communities and sectors to lack of equity and fairness. But times like these also offer an opportunity to address the gap and create more efficient health systems and partnerships. In order to build a sustainable future for all, healthy and empowered women, children and adolescents can bring about the change required. And that is one of the things a women’s club from Mandaluyong wants to address.
Soroptimist International of Mandaluyong (SIM), has been conducting the project, “Feeding Children, Teaching Mothers”, for twenty (20) years assisting children and their mothers from the club-adopted barangay or school. The program involves feeding two to six (2 to 6) year old undernourished children for 90 days and at the same time provides learning opportunities for mothers. Parents gained knowledge from lectures on health, parenting, disaster response, and other relevant topics.
The COVID-19 pandemic render more children nutritionally at-risk, thus, Sustansya Pang-Chikiting was conceptualized and implemented by SIM in urban poor areas in Mandaluyong City.
The Sustansya Pang-Chikiting Project started last 30 April 2020 in response to the health crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. SIM has partnered with the Pwersa ng Pamayanan para sa Voluntarismo (PPVR) – a group of community parents and youth volunteers. Mothers are usually the active volunteers for the feeding project and serve based on their ECQ schedules. At least three (3) teams of volunteer community mothers alternately buy ingredients, prepare the meals and distribute to the target beneficiaries.
Usually the adult member of the household receives the meal for their children from a designated distribution station. If accessibility permits, the children themselves receive the meal delivered on a door-to-door basis. With the permission from the barangay officials, volunteers can safely go about the preparation and distribution of the meals to the target beneficiaries.
Around three hundred fifty (350) children from Welfareville Compound, Brgy. Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City, regardless of their gender and nutritional status, benefitted from the program.
Welfareville Compound is home to hundreds of families of informal settlers who have no regular source of income. With the declaration of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ), their hardship has become more evident, relying only on the irregular distribution of relief packs coming from the local government unit. Children are most vulnerable and highly at-risk from malnutrition considering that typical contents of relief packs are rice, instant noodles and canned goods with only a few vegetable that are easily perishable.
The Sustansya Pang-Chikiting Project makes use of available and affordable, yet, nutritious ingredients in each meal. Since the mothers prepare the foods, they make sure that meals are highly nutritious. Some meals that are prepared and distributed are chicken arroz caldo, monggo, picadillo with ground pork and upo. Malunggay leaves are also the star ingredient of each meal.
Though given only twice a week, the meal still helps provide for the nutritional need of the children. Each bowl of nutritious meal to three or five children per household not only alleviates their hunger, but also relieves the parents from the stress of looking for food to serve on the table. The use of simple, locally available and low-cost ingredients inspire the parents to prepare other nutritious “lutong bahay” meals, like enhancing the traditional ginisang sardinas or noodles with malunggay, kangkong or talbos ng kamote.
A small incentive allowance is given to volunteers in consideration of at least five (5) hours they spent preparing and distributing the meals to the beneficiaries, and as a form of financial help to those whose incomes are affected by the on-going ECQ.
Originally, the feeding project was designed to only last until the ECQ is lifted on 15 May, but with the news of the ECQ extension SIM is now considering the possibility to extend also the period of the project, depending on the amount of funds raised from SIM members, friends, and other donors.
Aside from the feeding project, SIM has also organized the distribution of baby diapers and cash assistance to Strong, Empowered Early Moms Project (SEEM) teen moms last 18 April 2020, through the courtesy of Councilor Charisse Mar Abalos-Vargas. The distribution has been replicated to benefit other teen moms, through the donations from other city councilors and the Barangay Sangguniang Kabataan officials.
For their MASK-FOR-LIFE Project, SIM has commissioned a local group of women in Malabon City to sew 2-ply washable cloth mask with pouch for insertion of filter or tissue. SIM was able to donate a total of 2,180 pieces of face masks to local frontliners in Mandaluyong City, with each individual receiving two pieces.
Soroptimist International of Mandaluyong was established in August 1994. SIM was founded by a group of professional women based in Mandaluyong City, with a strong belief that the city needed women leaders who can serve as role models and are willing to offer their time and services. The organization aims to improve the lives of women and girls through programs leading to social and economic empowerment. SIM is a national awardee of the Search for Outstanding Volunteers in 2019.
There are many faces of this on-going pandemic, but when a crisis worsens, more often than not, women and children become the most neglected and vulnerable. As the country slowly transitions to a new normal, everyone, regardless of age and gender, should be given the equal opportunity to be provided with basic needs, services and support.
The author is currently the Program Officer, Volunteerism for Development Communication and Advocacy Program, Philippine National Volunteer Service Coordinating Agency.
(Visit PNVSCA website (www.pnvsca.gov.ph) and PNVSCA Facebook (facebook.com/PNVSCA) for other stories and information on volunteering in response to COVID-19).