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Stronger Kids for a Stronger Republic

Malnutrition remains to be a prevalent problem in the country.

One in every 3 Filipino children below 5 years old is stunted, and one in 3 children is underweight for his age, according to a 2015 Food Security Survey by Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI).

Twenty percent of Filipinos are still living below the poverty line, leading to many families unable to adequately provide for their family’s basic needs, including food. Thus, many children go to bed hungry and eat less than three meals a day.

For Republic Cement, nation-building goes beyond structures and infrastructure. Building high-rise structures and impressive roads and bridges is not enough. We also need to focus on the foundation of this country—our youth—who need to be prepared physically and mentally, to lead a stronger Philippines in the years to come.

Since 2017, we have worked together with Gawad Kalinga to secure our children’s health and nutrition through the Kusina ng Kalinga (Kitchen of Care) program, providing nutritious meals for the young children of Norzagaray, Bulacan and Taysan, Batangas, towns that are in the closest vicinity of Republic Cement’s cement plants in the two provinces.

In our first run of the Batangas Kusina in 2017, we provided meals to children from Kindergarten to Grade 3 from Taysan Central Elementary School, Pag-asa Elementary School, Mapulo Elementary School, and Bilogo Elementary School. Of the 726 school children, during the baseline measurement conducted by the Department of Education in June 2017, 11% were found to be either “wasted” or “severely wasted”.

Wasting is a state of acute malnutrition, wherein children have a considerably low weight for their height. Often associated with acute starvation and/or severe disease, muscle, and fat tissue is “wasted away.”

In 2017, after running the program for 5 months, malnutrition incidence was reduced from 11% down to 0% in just five months. Hoping to create a similar impact on more children, we embarked on an expansion of Republic-supported kitchens in June this year. We launched a new kitchen in Norzagaray, Bulacan, and are now feeding over 2,700 children, covering both Batangas and Bulacan. This is an almost four times increase in the number of children we served last year in our first Batangas Kusina.

What makes this program work is really the collaboration of different sectors—Republic funds the kitchen renovation and operations and conducts regular community engagement; Gawad Kalinga manages the day-to-day kitchen operations, values formation, and volunteer management; the Department of Education provides the kitchen space, the teachers who implement the feeding in schools and monitor the Body Mass Index of the children; the local government transports the food from the kitchen to the classrooms, funds the utilities, and covers the cost of two full-time workers who assist in the kitchen operations; and lastly, the parent-volunteers (parents of beneficiaries) serve in the kitchen as early as 4 a.m. to prepare the food.

But we could not end with just providing meals in the classrooms. On the first week of Kusina operations in Batangas, the Kusina project team reported that parents themselves were requesting for processed food (e.g. hot dogs, sausages), instead of the nutritious vegetable dishes that were being prepared.

The team then realized that we could not stop at simply providing nutritious lunch meals in school. If we want to see a long-lasting positive impact on the children’s health, we also need to address nutrition at home through the parents. Thus, we launched a campaign called “Lusog Tibay,” an educational caravan for parents, which aims to influence them to adopt a healthier and more nutritious lifestyle for their family.

The next phase of the campaign will be to help families have better access to healthy and nutritious produce. We are developing the local farmers in our communities, providing them training and livelihood support so that vegetables are made available locally and at an affordable cost. This gives rise to the creation of economic opportunities within the host and neighboring communities.

With all these efforts, we strive to provide nutritious food not just to fill the stomachs of our youth, but also to nourish their minds, giving them the courage and strength to pursue their dreams and ambitions.

We know there is much to be done, but with the simple steps we have undertaken so far, we hope to continue living our part as the country’s partner in nation-building.

Nourishing our children today means we are investing in the future–we are strengthening the Philippines’ future movers and shakers. It is on this note that we wish to end the year 2018 and sustain our initiatives for 2019. Together, let’s work to nourish stronger kids for a stronger Republic!

Nabil Francis, President, Republic Cement Services, Inc.

First published on Business Mirror

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