Music and nutrition in Payatas
MANILA, Philippines – In an area filled with shanties and various-sized mounds of garbage stood a big yellow house emitting smooth sounds of musical instruments coupled with children's laughter.
This is a rare sight for a place often stereotyped as having the worst of the worst in Metro Manila – poverty and crimes included – even if it’s also called “Lupang Pangako” (Promised Land).
For one of the many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) based in Payatas in Quezon City, it is not too late for the more than 100,000 residents to see progress in their lives – using an unlikely tool: music.
Ferdinand Medina has been a community worker since he can remember. He has worked with several communities around the Philippines, most recently in the Typhoon Yolanda-affected areas, and has been involved with empowering Filipinos.
In January 2014, he started Sparrow Music in one of the biggest communities in the garbage-ridden area. Being a Music graduate and an instructor at the University of the Philippines Diliman, he saw how this art could help the children of Payatas.
“Stressful dito sa Payatas lalo na para sa mga bata,” he explained. “Sa music, natatanggal ang stress nila sa paligid.” (Payatas is a stressful place especially for children. Because of music, their stress from the environment is dissipated.)
The 3,019-hectare land is often disrupted by the noise of garbage trucks which traverse the roads to the landfills day and night. From the houses, one can hear the sound of the machines used to incinerate the Metro's trash.
Despite the danger reeking from the "normal" situation in the area, children of various ages can still be seen playing in steep roads only to be interrupted by passing trucks. Sometimes, their only safer choice for a playground is a vacant lot filled with harmful materials.
Building self-confidence, dreams
To date, 40 children are beneficiaries of the programs of Sparrow. They are taught how to play instruments and to sing, an activity better than being exposed to other vices. Through music, Medina believes they are building the confidence of the children who often do not have anyone to encourage them to do better.
“Sa mga bahay nila, laging tinutukso at hindi ine-encourage na i-pursue iyong gusto nila gawin sa buhay,” he told Rappler. “Dito, free sila na kahit kumanta sila na wala sa tono, sige lang."
(In their homes, they are often teased and not encourage to pursue what they want in life. Here, they’re free to sing and do anything they want.)
The lack of confidence, he said, is one of the reasons why the country’s poorest are not keen on dreaming big.
“Iyong kapag walang confidence, iisipin agad nila na hindi nila kayang mag-aral sa isang lugar, magtrabaho, mangarap,” Medina added. (If people do not have confidence, they will immediately think that they can’t study in a certain place, work, or even dream.)
Fortunately, the children who used to be very shy and quiet now dream big and work for it. Before, they have no idea what lies ahead. Through the values and skills taught by the youth volunteers of the center, the children of Payatas are now gunning to become doctors, nurses, musicians, and even missionaries. (READ: Learning on an empty stomach)
“Natututo na sila mangarap,” he proudly said. “Noong nag-umpisa kami hindi nila alam gusto nilang gawin sa buhay nila.”
(They now know how to dream. When we started the program, these kids do not know what to with their lives.)
Sparrow also helps them veer away from bad influence in the community. According to Medina, there are children in the area who are often used as accomplices in robbing houses as they are just the right size to fight windows.
Instead of just loitering in far places, they now directly go to the center to attend music classes for an hour, study, and even play with their friends.
Medina and his volunteers provided a safe haven for children who currently do not have a choice in what kind of environment they can dwell on – even in their own homes.
“Tinitigil namin kung ano man ang masamang nakuha nila sa labas," he explained. “Consistent kami na ayusin ang behavior nila.”
(We stop whatever they got from the outside. We are really consistent and firm about fixing their behavior.)
Nutrition with attitude
Sparrow does not stop with teaching music to students. They know the unfortunate state of the children’s health and nutrition in the area. To fix this, the center also has a feeding program which provides lunch meals to children beneficiaries. (READ: Payatas, poverty, and the peanut butter project)
Every morning, Jovy Nacion walks to the center from her home to help prepare the meal that two of her children will partake of. She is one of the 6 parent-volunteers who are in charge of budgeting, shopping, and even making sure that the beneficiaries are treated properly with nutritious meals.
“Malaking tulong dito itong feeding program kasi alam namin na nakakakain nang mabuti iyong mga anak namin tuwing pumupunta sila para matuto ng music at mag-aral,” the 44-year-old mother of 7 said. (The feeding program is such a big help because we’re relieved that our children are eating right whenever they are here to learn music and be educated.)
Meanwhile, 44-year-old Hersey Pamitan is happy that her son doesn’t play too much computer games like before. He know focuses on learning – and mastering – the guitar and is slowly gaining weight.
“Dati puro computer shop siya, palaging naglalaro ng DotA lang,” she lamented. “Ngayon, wala na siyang panahon kasi nakatutok na siya sa pag-gigitara at nagiging normal na rin ang timbang niya.”
(He was always in the computer shop, always playing DotA. Now, he doesn’t have time since his attention is on playing the guitar. His weight is also normalizing.)
His center’s feeding program is great, Medina said, but the problem arises when the children are in their homes and away from the nurturing volunteers of Sparrow.
“Hindi pa rin ito okay kasi kulang pa rin sa nutrients kasi lunch lang ang nabibigay namin dito,” he said. "Iyong ibang mga bata dito minsan, kapag umuuwi, pagpag ang kinakain."
(It's still not okay because they still lack proper nutrients since we only provide lunch here. Other children sometimes eat pagpag when they’re home.)
He hopes to change the current mindset of the parents in the community – from being highly dependent on trash for livelihood, they can focus on other alternatives such as family farming. (READ: How local crops can end malnutrition)
“Isang kahig, isang tuka ang mga magulang dito at kapag hindi nangalakal, walang pang-gastos,” Medina said. “Karamihan kasi lagi nakikita na may pera lagi sa basura at hindi nila nakikita iyong bakanteng lote na puwede taniman at pagkakitaan."
(The parents here are living a day at a time and if they do not work, they do not have anything to spend. Most of them only see the money in the trash but miss the vacant lot where they can plant vegetables they can sell and earn from.)
There is still much to be done in Payatas and it needs more than one NGO to provide assistance to those in need. However, change can be achieved if everyone works hand in hand despite their differences. (READ: #HungerProject: How we can end hunger in our lifetime)
“Collaboration talaga ang kailangan kasi isipin mo, iyong 40 na bata dito at iyong 40 sa iba, ang laki na iyon,” he explained. “I-multiply mo pa sa bilang ng NGO dito, unti-unti na magkakaroon ng pagbabago talaga at sana magtuloy-tuloy lang ito.”
(Collaboration is really needed because if you think about the number of kids I have here and those of other centers, that’s already a big number. Multiply that by the number of NGOs here, you’ll see that change is inevitable. I just hope this will continue.) – Rappler.com
To learn more about the programs of Sparrow Music and how you can help, you can visit their Facebook page.
How can we help fight hunger? Recommend NGOs, report what your school or LGU is doing, or suggest creative solutions. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be part of the #HungerProject.