While Christendom is feasting on holiday food, poverty forces over half a million elementary school pupils to severe malnutrition.
The Department of Education (DepEd) disclosed that 562,262 pupils in kindergarten and elementary levels (Grades 1 to 6) enrolled in public schools this year are considered “severely wasted” based on a nutritional status report as of Aug. 31 this year.
These pupils are the target beneficiaries of a school-based feeding program to restore them to health and to keep them in school.
The DepEd, through its Health and Nutrition Center (HNC), said, however, it can only feed 42,372 school children, or 7.54 percent of the identified severely malnourished pupils, in 1,010 public elementary schools in 28 provinces.
For the feeding of more than half a million malnourished pupils, school officials and teachers have to collaborate with their respective local governments, nongovernment organizations, parent-teacher associations and other community volunteers for support, Education Secretary Armin Luistro said in a recent directive.
Schools were also encouraged to plant malunggay (moringa) trees and establish vegetable gardens to source ingredients for the children’s hot meals.
The school-based feeding program used to address “short-term hunger” experienced by children who do not eat breakfast and/or walk long distances to reach school, resulting to their inattentiveness in class or in frequent absences.
But since its implementation in 1997, the feeding program has shifted to addressing the more serious problem of undernutrition among school children, according to DepEd.
DepEd said the feeding intervention targets young pupils since they are in critical stage of mental and physical development and are vulnerable to illnesses and malnutrition. The dropout rate is also higher among younger pupils.
Luistro said the feeding program aims to rehabilitate at least 70 per cent of the severely wasted school children back to normal nutritional status at the end of 100 to 120 feeding days.
The program also seeks to increase the children’s attendance by 85 to 100 percent and to improve the children’s health values and behavior.
The DepEd said each hot meal costs about P15 based on developed recipes using malunggay.