CAGAYAN DE ORO JOURNAL (Danny C. Escabarte/June 6) - LIFE for Norbin and other children of Ilian, Piagapo, Lanao del Sur revolves around the simplicity of its environment and farming areas. The school and farm have somewhat molded their young outlook of how it is to live in this place, with the challenges of poverty as a daily reality.
Everyday, he sees his father wake up very early; with his farm tools on hand, proceeds to the farm while his mother takes care of the kids, and prepare them for school. Usually, children in the village bring cooked root crops and bananas as baon for recess time while those who have some money buy junk foods.
“Before… no breakfast, just a cup of coffee will do”, says Norbin when asked what’s their food at home. “We can’t even drink milk. When cropping season is bad, two of us will share and eat a single plate of rice with dried fish”, he added.
Oftentimes, children in Barangay Ilian skipped their classes to help their parents in the farm. Class attendance is very irregular during these times observes Ben- the community worker assigned in the area.
The recurring conflict sometimes also displaced families and damaged some crops in the process. Families who rely mostly from farming would be in difficult situation when conflict arises and when there is low production.
Timbang Padate, Norbin’s mother- was glad when in June 2006, the United Nations-World Food Programme (UN-WFP) has identified their village as one of the recipients of its food aid initiative. “Sukran” (thank you), was her words upon knowing of the good news.
“From spending more time in the farm, the children can now focus their attention in schooling”, she said. As part of the food for education (FFE) package, students who stay in school would receive twenty-five (25) kilograms of rice every two months. A school-based supplemental feeding program was also put in place.
The food aid program also has other component that addresses specific concerns in the target areas such as the mother and child nutrition (MCN) component.
Companies, NGOs, LGUs’ parallel response
The humanitarian endeavor for the children and families of Lanao del Sur got a boost when other groups supported the initiative. The Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) mobilized and sought product donations from its member companies and corporate friends complimenting aid resources from WFP. With the assistance of the local government units in the province through their local health offices, donated goods were delivered to target beneficiaries.
Kraft Foods Phils donated more than PhP 2 Million worth of vitamin C-rich mango fruit juices as additional source of vitamins for children and mothers. The juices will compliment the on-site supplemental feeding being held in the school.
United Laboratories also provided more than PhP2 Million worth of medicines, Citrinets (vitamin C) and Femina Iron supplements for lactating mothers.
Meanwhile, local government units had their hands full every time goods and food commodities would arrive in the province. Using available vehicles and manpower, they will transport the commodities to hinterland barangays where children and families gladly awaited its arrival.
Community health volunteers who are the first to respond to community’s health calls and inquiries were elated to receive the 70 medical kits from the Elena Tan Foundation. Volunteers will be using them to render services particularly in hard to reach areas, bringing to the people other government-led health services.
Addressing lack of access to food while keeping children in school
Besides supporting the peace process between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the aid for Lanao’s children also addressed the most basic of all necessities, and that is the right and access to food and education.
With the food aid initiative, children now enjoy their time in school and with their family as well. They no longer have to skip classes to help their parents in the farm just to have a steady supply of food on the table.
Like the rest of the children in the village, Norbin now regularly participates in school activities, her mother said. “He is now very attentive in class and has gained weight”, her mother added. Norbin has only this to say; “Thanks to Allah for giving us this wonderful opportunity”.
Other children in Mindanao’s depressed areas are also on the same ground with similar predicament like Lanao’s children. In the other priority areas of Basilan, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi; some children go to school without breakfast, without shoes, no writing materials, some are without slippers or even decent clothes for school; and yet they continue to walk the unpaved roads and ride bancas just to reach their school.