Seven years ago me and my family decided to pay it forward to our community through feeding children 5 years old and below. Since working in development and disability my eyes were open to the reality of poverty in the world though I am already aware of it in my country since high school, when we’re given opportunity to live their lives even for a day in the slums of Metro Manila.
We lived not far from where I studied kindergarten to high school. Malate Catholic School is an exclusive girls (and boys) school with programs that help children understand life through action and reaction. We have organizations that encourage us to live with the poor or to help them advance in life through the scholarships provided by the school from a percentage of our school fees.
Not far from our school and where I lived, poverty was apparent so it was no surprise that after years of not living in the house in Laguna, poverty stared us from behind.
We’ve permanently moved back to our house in the south when I started working in development overseas, being the youngest of the four and the last to leave home, my Mom was left alone in the house in the city.
Eventually, when Dad returned home and retired, my parents decided to retire in the south and tend to their plants and be around relatives. Since we only grew up here during the summers of our childhood, I can’t say I have many friends but the few I had are still good friends and some are still around, the same goes for my siblings.
It was also a decision to leave the tragic memory of my brother’s death in the city and be closer to where he was laid to rest together with my grandfather and five years ago with my mother.
So whenever I get the chance during my holiday breaks i would go and join the local health worker and help weigh kids and talk to mothers about hygiene, sanitation and proper nutrition while the health workers talk about reproductive health — subject I am not very familiar then. That’s when my eyes were open to the reality of the people living in our backyard.
There are families of more than 10 people living in a 2 meter shanty with open canal in front of their house.
Lines of water hose snakes through the passageway and the ground is always wet even if its scorching hot during the day.
You can smell what’s cooking in any house when you pass through and see people hanging out because there’s no space inside.
There are children anywhere you look.
Having observed that, I was moved to do something, nothing big but at least something for the children. Since I am not home most of the time then I can only commit to one activity per year. I don’t want it to make it look like political so we kept it within the family although I am free to interact with the health workers and find out their programs for the children and the community for information purposes only.
Isang Bata – Isang Tasa was conceptualized when I came back from Sierra Leone late 2007 and born in January 2008. It is literally translated to “One Cup – One Child” – one cup of healthy nutritious food is all you need to go, grow and glow. My wish is to give it everyday to a child that needs them but that remains a dream, for now I can only afford to feed one time per year and support them with multi-vitamins until supply last to add to their diet. The government have specific nutrition program for those identified to be malnourished, whether they do it or not is another story altogether.
We told each other that we cannot replace the role of the parents and the project of the government in providing for the less privilege and providing tender loving care and nutritious food but we can at least help where and when we can.
We do it every January, the month I was born and 4 other relatives – my grandfather, Andrae, my aunt and brother and as a way to celebrate instead of cooking for friends I decided to just use the money to cook big batches of Arroz Caldo and feed the children 5 years old and below, all 100 or more of them. I made sure its a full meal in itself with rice, veggies – Moringa primarily, chicken and egg to each bowl so the children can enjoy a local delicacy packed with vitamins, nutrients and minerals without them knowing, it is very different from the simple boiled rice and salt afforded by most mothers to feed their children or the salt and MSG laden instant noodles available in kiosks all over the country.
We have very simple requirements for the children; they should come in clean clothes, nothing fancy just clean, they had a bath with clean finger and toe nails, wearing their slippers (or sandals). In the beginning we ask them to bring their own cup or bowl and spoons to eat but last year we provided them their own cup to keep and bring every year – I just hope the cup is still whole or still have the handle, I will see this coming Saturday.
For help, I am thankful to some friends who continue to support this activity since the beginning – to the one who gives multi-vitamins for free, no asking twice and to those who gives cash towards food and gifts to share to the children and to those who come and join us on the day of the event and spread cheers to the children.
Every year I try to find more things to give to the children. Last year we gave Hygiene kits composed of soap, toothpaste, toothbrush, towellete, shampoo, comb and nail cutter and their own cup. The same year I had two friends giving pediatric consultations free for the day and their children gave away old toys. This year I am still debating what I will give away with an outpouring of support from friends overseas and here giving their shares to make the event successful.
We are typical middle class family, my Dad had a white collared job until he worked overseas to give us good life and education. Mom was a homemaker and later in life she spent more time in the church and doing work with the poor, migrants and giving free rosaries to the prisoners through her religious organization Legion of Mary. All of us were educated in private Catholic school and attended good universities which also gave us opportunity to work with the marginalized members of our society. In a way helping has been in the family for a long time, though my parents doesn’t have to tell us what to do their actions spoke louder that resonated in our lives until now.
I remember Mom would use some of the money Dad sent us to give to her church member who has nothing to feed her family and tell us that someone borrowed it and later that member and other people would tell us (the children) how my mother helped them when they have nothing.
With this small gesture I hope that I make my parents, my family proud and inspire others to do something for their neighbor. I said to myself “if I can do this in other countries and places why not here“. A small act of kindness can go a long way in the lives of the people it will touch and somehow gives the giver energy to keep on doing it because it feels good. This is my family’s way of thanking God for the new year, new life and for all the blessing received in the past and for the future.
I thank God also for my parents, my family and friends who also shares my vision that small gestures can help change lives.