MANILA, Philippines – It breaks the heart to hear that as many as 562,262 pupils in kindergarten and elementary levels enrolled in public schools have been classified as “severely wasted” or undernourished.
And it is a shame that of 562,262, the Department of Education Health and Nutrition Center (HNC) could only feed 42,372 schoolchildren or 7.54 percent of the identified severely malnourished pupils in 1,010 public elementary schools from 28 provinces.
But DepEd was able to heave a sigh of relief as the heavy task of feeding scores of undernourished schoolchildren has been shared by Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation’s (Pagcor).
Almost 10,000 undernourished school children from 186 public schools nationwide benefitted from the Pagcor’s feeding program that was launched last school year.
Pagcor chairman and chief executive officer Cristino Naguiat, Jr. said the state-owned gaming firm allocated P40 million for its feeding program last school year and it plans to raise the budget to P45 million for the next school year.
“For the coming school year we plan to increase this to about P45 million so that we can have more beneficiaries,” Naguiat said in a statement Monday.
Naguiat said the student-beneficiaries from public schools in Metro Manila and the provinces received an allowance of P40 and P30 per meal per day, respectively.
“Pagcor’s feeding program is conducted every semester for five months through our different Casino Filipino branches nationwide. We provide free nutritious lunch to public school children who have been classified as malnourished,” he added.
Naguiat said Pagcor’s feeding program was the agency’s way of helping the government address the malnutrition problem in the country.
“Our public school children need all the nutrition they can get to help them learn better and absorb all the teachings in school,” he said.
Among the recent beneficiaries of Pagcor’s feeding program was Jaylord Lozano, a 10-year old student of Damñas Elementary School in Digos City, Davao del Sur.
A few months after he started attending the feeding program in October 2012, Lozano gained four kilograms and now weighs 26 kilograms. He said he is now more energetic and his grades are higher.
“Salamat sa tulong. Binigyan kami ng libreng pagkain araw-araw. Ngayon pa lang kami nakakain ng ganito, na masarap. (Thank you for the help. We were given free meals every day. It is only now that we are able to eat delicious meals),” Lozano said.
Marilou Sales, principal of the Gabaldon Elementary School in Laoag, Ilocos Norte which is also a beneficiary of the agency’s feeding program – underscored the importance of proper food and nutrition among school children.
Most undernourished children, Sales said, come from the poorest families whose parents do not earn enough to provide the basic needs for their children.
She also noted that their dropouts are children whose parents decide to stop sending them to school due to severe poverty.
But Sales said they achieved a zero dropout rate after Pagcor selected their students as beneficiaries of the feeding program.
“Malaki ang pasasalamat namin sa biyayang ito dahil ang supplementary feeding program ng Pagcor dito sa school namin ay nakakatulong ng malaki. Yung mga bata nakikita ko na sila ay nae-engganyong kumain at mag-aral. Sa ngayon, wala na kaming mga dropouts pa dahil sa tulong ng Pagcor(We are very grateful for this blessing because Pagcor’s supplementary feeding program in our school helps us a lot. Our students are encouraged to eat and study. To date, we no longer have dropouts because of Pagcor’s help),” she said.