As children ran towards the faucet near the covered court of the Marcela Marcelo Elementary School in Pasay City, a little girl was left behind. Not because she did not want to wash her hands but because she has no hands to begin with.
Grade 1 pupil Stephanie Talanay, who was born with no arms, is one of thousands of undernourished public school children who received free nutritious meals from PAGCOR’s Feeding Program. Like many students in government-subsidized schools, she could not get enough nutrition due to poverty.
But through the state-owned gaming firm’s regular Feeding Program, Stephanie and close to 10,000 undernourished school children from 186 public schools nationwide were able to win the battle against malnutrition.
During their final weigh-in last March, students like Stephanie – who were under 15 kilograms – reached 18 kilograms, the ideal weight for seven-year-old children.
PAGCOR allocates P40 million annually to address the needs of undernourished public school students. Each student from schools in Metro Manila And the provinces receive a daily meal allocation of P40 and P30 per meal per day, respectively. For the coming school year, PAGCOR increased the allocation to P45 million in order to have more beneficiaries.
The Feeding Program was carried out by PAGCOR in response to the pressing need to improve the health and nutrition of school children from the poorest public schools.
Based on a report released last August 2012 by the Department of Education (DepEd), a total of 562,262 pupils in kindergarten and elementary levels enrolled in public schools have been classified as “severely wasted” or undernourished. However, the DepEd’s Health and Nutrition Center (HNC) reported that it could only feed 42,372 or 7.54 percent of the identified severely malnourished pupils in 1,010 public elementary schools form 28 provinces.
Jaylord Lozano, a ten-year-old student of Damñas Elementary School in Digos CIty, Davao del Sur began attending the PAGCOR feeding program in their school in October 2012. After a few months, Lozano gained four kilograms and now weighs 26 kilograms. The ideal weight for 10-year-old kids is 24.5 to 47 kilograms, depending on their height.
Jaylord shared that he is now more energetic, and his grades were higher. “Salamat sa pagtulong sa kabataan. Binigyan kami ng libreng pagkain araw-araw. Ngayon pa lang kami nakakain ng ganito, na masarap,” Lozano said. The daily menu for students consists of vegetables, meat or fish, rice and fruits.
Meantime, Marilou Sales, principal of the Gabaldon Elementary School in Laoag, Ilocos Norte which is also a beneficiary of the PAGCOR feeding program, underscored the importance of proper nutrition among school children. “Kapag ang bata ay hindi kumakain nang sapat, walang nutrisyon, apektado ang kanilang pag-aaral. Mababa ang kanilang grades, hindi nakakabasa nang maayos at kadalasan sila yung hindi nakakapasok sa school,” she added.
According to her, most undernourished children come from the poorest families whose parents do not earn enough to provide the basic needs for their children. Sales noted their dropouts are children whose parents decide to stop sending them to school due to severe poverty.
Sales said their school achieved zero dropout rate when PAGCOR selected their students as beneficiaries of the feeding program. “Malaki ang pasasalamat namin sa biyayang ito dahil ang supplementary feeding program ninyo dito sa school namin ay nakakatulong nang malaki. Yung mga bata nakikita ko na sila ay naeengganyong kumain at mag-aral. Sa ngayon, wala na kaming mga dropouts dahil sa tulong ng PAGCOR,” she said.
For the longest time, people thought that the gaming business is all about the rich throwing away their money in fancy VIP casino rooms and chandelier-lit hotels like there’s no tomorrow.
But as the years passed, gaming has become a vehicle for tourism and economic development of progressive countries in the world like the US, Australia, Singapore and Macau. Where there is gaming, there are jobs generated and booming economic activity.
In the Philippines, the state-owned Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR) is not only instrumental in spurring economic growth through higher tourist influx and enhanced economic activity. PAGCOR is also the government’s staunch partner in reaching out to the less-privileged sectors of society.
Besides its contributions to the national government and other mandated beneficiaries, PAGCOR strives to touch the lives of more Filipinos by putting corporate social responsibility at the core of the organization’s existence. Here’s a sneak peek of how the state-run gaming firm brings basic social services closer to the Filipino masses:
Health services and relief missions
PAGCOR partners with various government and non-government agencies in delivering basic services to marginalized communities through service and medical mission caravans and provision of medical supplies to low-income households.
The Corporation also provides immediate response to victims of calamity and natural disasters. When the locals of Iligan City and Cagayan de Oro lost their homes and loved ones to flash floods in December last year, PAGCOR Chairman and CEO Cristino Naguiat, Jr. immediately ordered the release of a P2 million financial aid for the victims. Similarly, the state-owned gaming firm reached out to hundreds of families affected by the landslide in Compostela Valley early this year by providing basic needs like food, medicines and potable water for the victims.
PAGCOR subsidizes the nutritional needs of underweight children from community-based day care centers and public elementary schools nationwide through a supplemental feeding program, which is conducted in partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the DepEd.
The program, which has been in place since 2008, has helped thousands of children battling with malnutrition, achieve their ideal weight. Monitoring reports show that from underweight status, a big majority of the recipients gained normal body mass index, after the four-month feeding session.
For the many underprivileged Filipino children, food isn’t a basic right but a luxury that their families can’t afford. Find out how PAGCOR’s feeding program makes a difference in their lives.
Every day, seven-year old Malen Andrade together with her mother walks for an hour through the busy highways of Paranaque City to get to San Agustin Elementary School. The young girl’s family lives in a gillage, a colloquial term for “gilid” (side) and an upscale village where informal settlers thrive on its outskirts.
When I first saw Malen, a first grader with a fragile frame, I couldn’t imagine how she manages to walk to school for an hour every day. Her 50-year old mom Elvira Andrade shares that Malen should have been in second grade now. But since she was always tired, they decided let her quit schooling last year.
Little did Elvira realize that sending her daughter to school on an empty stomach could make her youngest child weak and sluggish. When Malen re-entered Grade One last school year, she was still the same frail little girl. At less than 13 kilos, she was underweight for her age.
When the San Agustin Elementary School was chosen as one of the beneficiaries of PAGCOR’s Feeding Program in Paranaque, Malen was one of the 50 malnourished students who qualified for the program.
Poverty and malnutrition
According to the latest report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 4 million pre-school children in the Philippines are underweight while 3 million adolescents are chronically energy deficient.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) also reported that the case of malnutrition and stunted growth among Filipino children is greatly influenced by the pre-natal practices of mothers who do not receive proper pre-natal care. Thus, malnutrition during infancy is carried on until the child’s growing up years.
When PAGCOR started its Feeding Program in San Agustin Elementary School in July 2010, Malen’s journey towards nourishment began.
The PAGCOR Feeding Program is designed to augment the existing programs of the Philippine government through a partnership with the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Education (DepEd). The Corporation subsidizes the nutritional needs of underweight children from community-based day care centers and public elementary schools nationwide. Its partners, meanwhile, identify the program beneficiaries and periodically assess their development within a four-month period, until the children reach their ideal weight.
Since its re-launch in July 2010, the PAGCOR Feeding Program has been carried out in public elementary schools in Davao, Mimosa, Laoag, Paranaque and Olongapo. Thousands of undernourished public school students have already benefited from the activity.
When I visited Malen and her classmates during one feeding session at the Agustin Elementary School, I saw how she finished her food with much gusto. Back home, she is a picky eater, says Elvira.
“Siguro kasi masasarap ang pagkain dito sa school. Hindi katulad sa bahay na halos pare-parehas ang ulam. At kadalasan, hindi sapat ang pagkain namin para sa boung pamilya. (Perhaps, it is because the food they serve at school is delicious. Unlike at home, we always have the same kind of viand. And more often than not, it is not enough to feed the entire family),” she reveals.
Without any source of livelihood, and having to care for a bed-ridden husband, Mrs. Andrade depends on her three children who get seasonal jobs at a construction company. But while making ends meet remains a struggle, she is grateful that her daughter can now eat nutritious meals everyday through PAGCOR’s Feeding Program. Malen has gained two to three pounds per month. Now, the once malnourished kid has reached her ideal weight.
“When children are well-nourished, they are more attentive and participative in school activities. Absenteeism is minimized and they get better grades,” Rhodora Villar, Principal of San Agustin Elementary School explained.
The road to a hunger-free Philippines may still be far from sight. But as long as organizations like PAGCOR continue to become part of the solution by curbing malnutrition among the poorest of the poor, there is after all, hope for children like Malen.