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Inquirer Northern Luzon
Hunger survivor heads feeding program

By Maurice Malanes
Northern Luzon Bureau
First Posted 02:43:00 01/21/2009

Filed Under: Regional authorities, Poverty, Food, Children

BAGUIO CITY ? He was just 9 days old 56 years ago when he and a twin brother, who were born to poor farming parents in the interior village of Sapid in Mankayan, Benguet, were rescued from starvation. His seven other younger siblings were not as lucky ? they all died of hunger.

Coming to the rescue of Donald Soriano and his twin Ronald in 1952 was Elva Vanderbout-Soriano, an American missionary who founded the Bethesda orphanage (now the Bethesda Ministries International) based in Barangay Tuding in Itogon, Benguet.

Raised by and educated through the orphanage, Soriano (who assumed the married surname of the orphanage?s founder), seeks to return the favor from what he calls a lease on his life.

Since 2007, the Bethesda Ministries International, which Soriano now heads, has embarked on an integrated nutrition program for underweight or malnourished children in elementary schools in Luzon.

Bethesda collaborates with the nongovernment Assisi Development Foundation, which has a similar initiative called the Hapag-Asa (Hope for the Table) program.

?The underlying philosophy of the program comes from Christ?s admonition for us to help feed the hungry,? says Soriano, now a bishop.

He visited remote villages and found that many children drop out of school because of lack of food.

He cites Bot-oan in Buguias, Benguet, where children have to walk one to two hours to reach school. With the uphill climb to school, the children get hungry along the way and they end up eating their baon or packed lunch so they have nothing for lunch.

Seven elementary schools in Buguias are among the recipients of Bethesda?s feeding program, which also covers some schools in parts of the Cordillera, Ilocos Sur, Nueva Vizcaya, Quirino, Isabela, Bulacan, Quezon and Metro Manila.

Mass feeding

In collaboration with health and nutrition personnel of the Department of Education, Bethesda volunteers first measure the height and weight of schoolchildren before the feeding program begins.

After 90 to 120 days of feeding, the children?s height and weight are again monitored to determine any impact.

Although not all children are underweight, Bethesda resorts to mass feeding in recipient schools. ?It won?t be good to see some children salivating while other children are enjoying their meals so we resort to mass feeding,? says Soriano.

The main component of the program is what is called Vitameal, a rice-lentil meal which Soriano says is fortified with 25 vitamins and minerals and can be cooked into a cereal mix.

A 79.5-gram dry Vitameal, if cooked, can feed 30 1-to-4-year old children, and a 159-gram Vitameal, 15 adults. Besides carbohydrates and proteins, Vitameal contains Vitamins A, C, D, E, B1 (thiamin) and B2 (riboflavin) and others.

Besides potassium, iron, zinc, phosphorous and other minerals, Vitameal contains iodine that, health experts say, is vital in developing the brain of growing children and is thus crucial in their intellectual growth.

Many Cordillera folk lack iodine in their diet. This explains the prevalence of goiter in the upland region. Goiter is the enlargement of the thyroid gland as a result of lack of iodine.

Cooking Vitameal is easy but instructions on ratio and proportion of water and the cereal mix must be followed, Soriano says.

?So we have to orient concerned DepEd health and nutrition personnel and participating school heads on how to cook the cereal mix,? he says.

As part of the orientation, Bethesda releases sample packs to concerned personnel so they can also develop menus and mixtures using locally available food.

In Sadanga, Mt. Province, for example, parents volunteer to provide locally available vegetables, such as tubers and leaves of gabi or yam, which are mixed with Vitameal.

As members and officers of the Parents-Teachers Community Association, parents in Sadanga also help school health and nutrition personnel prepare the cereal mix for the children.

In some towns, such as Bokod in Benguet, local officials provide counterpart funds for the feeding program. These funds are used to buy spices (garlic, ginger and onions) or slices of meat to mix with the cereal mix.

?We encourage these local contributions and counterparts to avoid developing a doleout mentality on the part of recipient communities,? says Soriano.

Copyright 2015 Northern Luzon Bureau. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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