By Sujata Jena
Manila, July 3, 2019: The Sacred Hearts Congregation’s “a glass of milk” mission has helped reduced malnutrition among children in the Philippines.
“Millions of underfed and malnourished Filipino children go to school with empty stomachs – a barrier to their healthy development in their growing up years,” says Linda Queremit, who coordinates “A Glass of Milk” program of the congregation in the Philippines.
Under the “Baso ng gatas” or a glass of milk program, each child is given a glass of milk in 6 slots a day, starting from 6:30 am to 3:30 pm.
Since the program’s launch six years ago, the stunting rates and indicators of severe malnutrition among children have dropped drastically. “It is an indication that the Sacred Hearts Congregation’s interventions are reaping desired results,” Queremit told Matters India.
The nuns’ main activities are Bagong Silang where they have catered to more than 1,300 kindergarten children for the past six years.
The most affected area was Bagong Silang, the largest barangay in the Philippines in terms of land area and population.
A barangay is a small territorial and administrative district forming the most local level of government in the Philippines.
The nuns also fight hunger in Metro Manila and Caloocan city and helped drastically reduced the number of children who are stunted, severely wasted, or underweight, Queremit claims.
“We have witnessed hunger and poverty related death, school dropout cases in the Barangay for years,” she added.
At least 12 female volunteers work full time under the program.
Sacred Heart Sister Alejandra Muñoz, who pioneered the program with Sacred Heart Father Harald Adler, says they add home prepared food supplements and chocolate in the hot boiled milk and serve during the break time in the school.
Ana Ed, a volunteers, said they measure meticulously the children’s heights and weights every three months, “and we have seen a qualified growth in them.”
The children shout ‘Masarap’ (delicious) while they drink, Ed said with a smile.
Pete Inocando, principal of the Kalayaan High School where the program is implemented says it has helped improve the health and educational advancement among the children.
“The program prevents the children from falling asleep due to malnourishment and helps them to concentrate during class as well. The study performance of the children has improved highly,” he added.
The Philippines produces less than 1 percent of its total annual dairy requirement and imports the balance mainly from New Zealand and Australia.
Poverty in the Philippines is concentrated in rural areas and a major concern is the vulnerability to poverty because of disaster risks. Perennial typhoons and flooding have devastating economic and social impacts.
The only Social Welfare Scheme the Government avails for its poor citizen is Pantawid Pamilya Pilipino Program, or the ‘4Ps.’ It provides cash grants to poor households as incentives for parents to keep their children healthy and in school. The 4Ps has two types of cash grants that are given out to household-beneficiaries:
Health grant: 500 pesos (US$9.77) per household every month, or a total of 6,000 pesos (US$117.25) every year.
Education grant: 300 peso (US$5.86) a child every month for ten months, or a total of 3,000 pesos annually. A family is allowed to register a maximum of three children for the program.
The program benefits only about 20 percent of the poor in the Philippines. A main criterion to avail the 4PS is that children, aged 3-18, must enroll in school and maintain at least 85 attendance every month.
“Majority of poor and homeless are unable to meet this criterion,” Queremit says.
San Damien is the mission center of the Sacred Hearts Congregation in Bagong Silang. The Mission started in the year 2003 as one and same mission of the Brothers-Sisters of the single congregation immersed among the deserving people of rural Philippines.
One of the General Chapters of the Congregation prioritized the importance of living in an inserted community, having an option for the poor. The mission in the Philippines is part of this.
Beside the milk program, malnourished pregnant women and children receive nutritious hot-cooked lunch thrice a week. This is done to ensure ‘Zero Baby Death.’
Sponsorship program for the poor students, capacity enhancement for the physical-mental- emotionally changed children, assistance to the elderly, free medical clinic, livelihood projects and pastoral care of the children are other services included in the mission.
Sacred Hearts Brothers and Sisters from countries like Ireland, Spain, Germany, Hawaii, Tonga, India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Chile, Peru and Ecuador have been part of the inserted community services from the start of the mission.
Every year hundreds of volunteers across the world visit the center and are enriched with the exposure experience in the rural Philippines.
The mission community works hard to coordinate and net-works with numerous individuals and organizations to continue to run the projects for the deserving people. Beside the financial aid from the congregation, the community has tapped the help from different business owners and private individuals to be involved in the fight against poverty and malnutrition.
Among the collaborators for the mission from Germany, Spain California, Japan, Canada, Sir Vitug Noly, a businessman of the Philippines is a significant donor for the feeding program.
Sacred Hearts is a missionary congregation well known by one of its members Saint Damien of Molokaii. Saint Damien De Veuster, a young ordained Sacred Heart priest at the age of 24 volunteered to go Molokai to care for the secluded lepers in the island. He dedicated his life with the lepers, contracted the disease in the later stage, died a leper at the age of 49.