Manila, Philippines - For more than a year now, Annaliza Cañada wakes up at the crack of dawn each day.
Without fail, even during those dark days of monsoon and torrential rains, she reports to Manuel L. Quezon (MLQ) Elementary School in Quezon City to begin her morning duties.
Unlike other early risers all over the city though, Ate Annaliza is not a paid worker reporting to a 9-hour job.
She — and other individuals like her — are kitchen volunteers for Blue Plate for Better Learning, a 130-day in-school nutrition program spearheaded by the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED).
These volunteer workers serve as the manpower corps of the program that provides balanced and nutritious meals to 12,000 malnourished public school children from 49 select public schools in Metro Manila and Rizal province.
No more commas and periods
It is no easy feat to be a kitchen volunteer.
Aside from the tiring work and the long hours, the program is a continuing effort that stretches from July until the end of the academic school year in March.
But they find great recompense at the end of the day, when it is time to serve the meals to the children.
According to "Ate" Daria Ignacio, a volunteer from Marick Elementary School in Cainta, Rizal, “Bumabalik ako dahil nakakatuwa yung experience na makatulong sa pagpapakain ng ganoon karaming mga bata (I come back because I enjoy the experience of helping feed so many children)."
Ate Daria adds that she knows what these children are going through: most of them have to walk home during lunch break just to eat because they don’t have money to buy lunch, nor do their parents prepare meals for them.
“At pagbalik nila pagkatapos ng lunch break, gutom na sila ulit dahil sa layo ng nilakad nila. (And when they return after lunch break, they are already hungry because of the distance they walked.)"
Many of the parent volunteers were moved to tears when asked to share about their experiences in the program. They explained that it’s because they themselves come from poor families; they know what it feels like to be “kapos” and to worry about what food to put on the table each day.
One of the mothers shared that, before joining the program, she and her husband made light of their situation by calling their ulam "comma and period" — they would swipe at the patis or fish sauce (like writing a comma), dip their finger in the asin or salt (like punctuating a period) and then eat a mouthful of rice.
Their children would repeat the process until they felt full.
Now, not only are they sure that their children come home with a full stomach each day, they also know that their meals are healthy and balanced.
“I stopped using betsin (MSG) and cooking only fried food every day; we learned that from BluePlate.
"Now, even our children request for vegetables during weekends,” another mom volunteer from Cainta, Ate Sherryl Sebastain, said.
Attacking the monster at its heart
“Poverty is a monster with many hearts,” Fr. Jett Villarin, president of Ateneo de Manila University, explained in a speech to inaugurate the newest addition to the program’s arsenal against poverty: a two-story kitchen building especially built to handle the task of cooking the meals each day.
For Fr. Jett, Blue Plate’s goal is to crush one of poverty’s hearts — hunger.
People who wish to help vanquish the poverty monster can do so with only Php11.50 per child/day.
For Php1,495, you have already helped a malnourished child for a whole year. - Rappler.com
Want to help? Volunteer or donate. For more information, you may contact ACED at 426-6001 local 4028 or 4029 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.