I was so sleepy last night I could barely keep up with my student during my last English class for the night. When I finished my class, I was planning to go to bed already but I noticed the featured topic of the local documentary show, "The Correspondents" on the local ABS-CBN channel. On the tv screen were videos of children so severely malnourished, they were dubbed "Batang Kalansay" (Living Child Skeleton). All of a sudden, I forgot about getting my shuteye and got glued on the television. The show presented children aged 2-8 years old suffering from mild to severe malnutrition. These children certainly didn't look their age if you'd compare them to their healthier counterparts. In all of the cases featured, the children's malnutrition started from the time they were still in their mothers' womb. Due to extreme poverty, pregnant women can't have the proper nutrition and daily dose of needed vitamins and minerals. As a result, their fetuses suffer malnutrition from the moment of conception. Life is no better for these children after they're born. With no money for food, these children are lucky to even have one meal a day which would often consist of rice, flavored with a little salt or soy sauce. There are worse days when the families would go on throughout the day without a single meal in their stomachs. As a result of this, the children grow up with severe retardation in their growth, often not being able to walk or talk.
As the images move in front of me, I slowly transfer my gaze on my sleeping children and silently offer a prayer of thanks to God for blessing us with enough food to eat every single day. I realize how lucky my children are...and how lucky I am to have been brought up healthy and happy by my parents. I can't even begin to fathom how hard life really is for those people not so fortunate as I am. It made me forget every little problem I have...surely, no problem could be more serious than what these families must be going through every single day of their lives.
When the tv showed the effect of malnutrition to a child's brain, it came as no wonder why majority of the children in the Philippines are having difficulty with school and would often fail in aptitude tests for high school or college. With severe malnutrition, the brain stem and surrounding areas would develop more mass of air compared to the brain of a healthy child. The malnourished child would lose focus at school and have difficulty understanding lessons and concepts. One child who was observed for 2 days in school, was already in his 3rd year of Grade 1, having failed the level twice already. He would often go to school on an empty stomach, thus feeling sleepy and lethargic as soon as he arrives in school. It would also be normal for him to come home to an empty table. The child is already 8 years old but his height and weight correspond to the normal measurement for a child who is 3 or 4 years old.
Watching the show has been an eye opener for me...firstly, to be extra thankful for the life I have, blessed that my children don't have to suffer the same fate. Secondly, it reinforced my belief that nutritious food need not be expensive at all. Maintaining a small garden consisting of even just a malunggay tree, squash, sayote and kalabasa can provide a family all their nutrition needs. Feeding programs of the government are not the solution, they're only temporary bandages to a growing problem. As one resource person mentioned, what can turn this thing around is the behavior and attitude change of parents...they need not look for food that need to be bought, they can grow them in their own yard or small patch of land. It's so sad that one tearful parent said on the show that she feels so sorry that she wasn't able to train her children to eat simple vegetables and are now suffering this severe oversight. Because of this show, I am more inspired to let my children appreciate vegetables and learn to love eating them.