What comes to mind when you think of children in school? Do you see kids with their hands raised for recitation in class? Are they actively playing sports with their friends or doing extra-curricular activities as guided by their teachers?
Unfortunately, this is not always the reality, especially in the Philippines where economic gains do not always trickle down to poor urban or rural areas. You hear countless stories of students walking hours just to reach their schools in the provinces, and with nothing in their tummies to sustain them, they lack the energy and focus to keep up with the day's lessons. Many do not advance to the next grade level because of too many absences due to sickness.
According to data from the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), 25% or one out of four Filipino school children has been found to be stunted. This means that a big number of Filipino children are experiencing impaired growth and development due to poor nutrition and other causes.
These are just some of the challenges that the country's educators face, which the Nestlé Wellness Campus advocacy program aims to address to help uplift the lives of Filipino families through nutrition, health, and wellness education.
Starting healthy habits early in Parañaque
''Maraming bata ang mababa ang timbang (Many children are underweight),'' Florenda Aquino, Assistant Principal at Fourth Estate Elementary School in Parañaque, said of the almost 2,000 students enrolled in School Year 2019-2020. When the school implemented the Nestlé Wellness Campus, which focuses on teaching healthy habits around proper diet and exercise, Aquino said the program helped improve the students' overall health and nutrition. But more importantly, it became a lifestyle for the students that they passed on to their families as they lived out the healthy practices learned.
''Ang mga bata na ang nagsasabi sa kanilang magulang na dapat may gulay silang kakainin,'' she explained.
(It is the kids who tell their parents that they should have vegetables to eat.)
Teacher Wilfredo Reyes, who took charge as the school's Wellness Coordinator, cited how their Gulayan sa Tapat ng Silid Aralan encouraged the students to not only eat vegetables but also expanded their knowledge about what nutrients were best for their family's health. Students who best maintained their gulayans (vegetable gardens) were rewarded with fish and vegetables sponsored by the school's various stakeholders.
This was particularly important, according to Department of Education Program Supervisor Glenn Ducta, emphasizing how critical access to nutritious food is for families who live in shanty areas and have been greatly impacted by the health crisis.''Dahil sa Wellness Program, nasanay na silang kumain ng gulay at isda, mga simpleng pagkain na mataas ang nutrisyon,'' he said. ''Nadala natin sa tamang paraan ang pagse-serve ng pagkain sa hapag-kainan kasama ang mga magulang.''
(Because of the Wellness Program, they have become accustomed to eating vegetables and fish, simple food with high nutrition. We were able to bring the right way of serving food at the dinner table with the parents.)
The true spirit of bayanihan in Iriga
For Sta. Maria High School (SMHS), it was not only serving nutritious food that they had to worry about. Located five kilometers away from the Iriga City center, clean water was not always available in their area.
'Wala talagang stable water supply ang school and the community. May water connection pero may oras at may araw lamang,'' said Joselyn Sayson, former principal and one of the key implementers of the Nestlé Wellness Campus program in SMHS. This was a major concern because students did not have water for drinking nor did they have any supply to clean the comfort rooms, so they ended up closed most of the time.
(The school and the community do not really have a stable water supply. There is a water connection, but only on selected days and for a limited time only.)
And so, in 2017, inspired to make a difference and improve their student's quality of life and learning, Sayson successfully convinced the officials of Camarines Sur to provide their school with a regular supply of clean water. They also asked for a stainless water tank, water jugs for each classroom, and big drums for the comfort rooms. The local government answered their call and arranged for trucks to deliver water to Sta. Maria twice a week, which the school has since shared with 1,600 households in their community.
Aside from clean water, the school also established an organic garden that the majority of nearby households have learned from and copied for their own homes.
''Ginawan namin sila ng module [for establishing an organic garden] para sila mismo ang matuto at magturo sa mga bahay nila. Na-develop 'yung strong partnership between the parents and teachers,'' explained Arjay Dimanarig, the Nestlé Wellness Campus coordinator of SMHS.
(We made them a module [for establishing an organic garden] so they can learn and teach this in their homes. A strong partnership has been developed between the parents and teachers as a result.)
Dimaranig and Sayson have moved on to their new assignments as educators, but their contributions have truly changed many lives in Sta. Maria for good. ''If the program would be implemented with all sincerity, the impact to the community will be lifelong. Hindi siya matatapos lang sa isang school year,” Sayson emphasized.
(This program cannot be completed in just one school year.)
''Bayanihan stories like these encourage us to do more for the community,'' said Arlene Tan-Bantoto, Senior Vice President and Head of Public Affairs, Sustainability, and Communications at Nestlé. ''As we strive to be a Kasambuhay for Good of Filipino families, we are deeply committed to supporting schools and communities in helping address their nutrition, health, and wellness challenges. We thank them for working with us in enabling Filipino families to live healthier, happier lives.''
To know more about Nestlé Philippines' Wellness Campus program, visit its website.
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