Voluntourism Philippines.

Ending Malnutrition in Tagum City, Davao del Norte


When retired US chef David Wasson and his wife were invited by a health worker to a feeding program in one of the barangays of Tagum City, Davao del Norte, he was deeply moved by the sight of malnourished children eating lugaw (rice porridge), the regular fare served in such projects.

This was in 2010, when he first settled in the area.

He shares that the barangay health center did the same program after a few months. They did not see significant changes in the children’s weights.

 
Wasson did not waste time to address the need. Within the same year, he formed the Tagum City Food Bank under the Tagum City Children’s Relief Inc. (TCCRI) so that he and his wife can conduct a feeding program twice a month.

Later on, they decided to step up the efforts by holding a weekly program. Still, the children remained underweight.

That was when the eureka moment came. It dawned on Wasson that individuals, especially malnourished children, need more than the usual rice porridge to reach the right weight. The only way to achieve this is by eating a balanced meal three times a day.

“That is what God intended for us-- to eat a balanced meal every day, three times a day,” Wasson shares.

In impoverished areas, most families do not have enough funds to eat three times a day. Due to extreme poverty,  the parents are sometimes forced to choose who among their children will be fed on a particular meal time.

Mothers and children from Brgy. Canocotan, Tagum City, Davao del Norte eating the nutritious meal prepared by David Wasson and his team.
So when Wasson proceeded to create a 12-week nutrition program for barangays, he decided that aside from providing “real” meals, his group will also give away three kilos of iron-fortified NFA rice to the beneficiaries.

In the three month program, the beneficiaries are provided with a nutritious meal consisting of rice, two viands, rice porridge, soup, fresh fruits, and fruit juice two times a week.

An example of a healthy meal: Vegetables, meat, and soup are paired with rice. Fruit juice and slices are healthy alternatives to sugar-laden desserts.
Weekly nutrition assessment is also conducted.
Wasson weighs a child in one of the barangay feeding programs.
After a few weeks, they were able to observe a significant weight gain among the beneficiaries, who are mostly 0 to 6 years old.

But, Wasson adds, they also welcome mothers and other children up to 12 years old in the Tagum City Food Bank program.

The success of the program in one barangay spurred Wasson to do the same thing to nearby communities.

To date, Wasson and his team have rolled out the nutrition program in all 23 barangays of Tagum City. They have also restored some 807 severely malnourished children. And the number continues to grow as Wasson expands his feeding program.


Barangay Collaboration

Wasson and his team worked with various barangay health departments to determine the areas that are in need of a nutrition program.

By law, all the barangays in the Philippines have to weigh the children living in the area twice a year.

The barangay workers bring the malnourished children to the feeding sessions usually held in a barangay court.

Tagum City Children Relief Inc. volunteers prepping up the beneficiaries.
They set up the whole place with tables and chairs while Wasson and his group cover everything from the cooking to the weekly nutrition assessment.

Wasson, also a teacher, provides a holistic program that includes teaching hygiene, sanitation, and cooking lessons to the beneficiaries.

Healthy Bodies and Minds

Wasson also feeds the minds of the children during the feeding program by sharing reading materials.

“The children select the books, then they  bring it back the following week. Every kid gets to read 12 books during the program,” he shares.

Wasson, a two-time grantee, was recently awarded a portable kitchen and a mobile library complete with 3,500 books.

A look inside the TCCRI portable library.
Aside from the books, the roving library also contains other educational materials such as a globe, a human body model, and a number of mobile tablets, among others.

According to Wasson, the children are always excited to get the books.
After the feeding program, Wasson and the barangay workers distribute books to the children. Here, they pose with their new reading materials.
“We try to give them a love for books and for reading. And to associate reading with being loved and cared for. If that happens to them at five or six years old, they will enjoy reading for the rest of their lives,” he shares.

Wasson shares that most of the volunteer work can be done in the mobile library.

“The feeding programs are done two times a week, that’s it. It would be more enjoyable to work in the mobile library,” he notes.

“For me, the mobile library represents the bigger opportunity for volunteers. The library operates every day of the week in each of the barangay for two weeks,” he shares. “That way every barangay can have the library for two weeks each year.”

He says that barangay workers and other volunteers go to the library to read stories to children.

Volunteering Opportunities

Volunteering at the Tagum City Food Bank is free of charge. However, volunteers are responsible for their food and lodging costs while staying in the area.

Wasson says that most of his volunteers, who come from the US and Asian countries, are professionals who are supported by their company.

One volunteer talks to a child during the rice giving portion of the feeding program.
He recounts that most of his volunteers are moved to tears when they see the dismal condition of the communities.

“They cry. It is hard to explain the things that are happening here,” he shares.

Smiling Eyes

Wasson continues that during the first week of the feeding program, he can only see hopelessness in the eyes of the beneficiaries.

“I call it ‘learned helplessness’. You can see it in their faces that they are helpless,” he shares.

“But after a couple of weeks, you can see a smile in their eyes, it’s like they have hope. That is probably the most satisfying thing for me-- when I see that hope in their eyes,” he says.

Everything done with love will have a strong impact. Perhaps this is what sets Wasson apart from other health workers.

He says, “The mothers would come to me saying: ‘You loved my kids. What you did for us, you did it with love. And my kids felt loved.’”
Wasson sits down to talk to a mother and her child.
A helping hand that knows no borders can push others to greater heights. “We try to give them hope and their own futures. I expect the next president to come from one of these kids,” Wasson says.

For more information on how to donate or volunteer, visit Tagum City Food Bank’s Facebook account (https://www.facebook.com/Tagum-City-Food-bank) and website (http://www.tagumfoodbank.org/)

Anna Pangalangan Anna Pangalangan Author

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