Better Nutrition Brings Health and Hope

Story and photos by Rhea Juson, Philippines Program Advisor

Child Champions in the Philippines step in to improve nutrition and development among chronically undernourished Badjao kids.

Ariana, 10, enjoys a meal at her Hope Center.

Despite lacking in basic needs, children living in poverty are generous because they know the feeling of having less and can show empathy to others who are poor.

I remember meeting a Badjao girl, Ariana, 10, at Aplaya Hope Center in Davao City in the Philippines. She is one of the seven children of Bojie Pilas, a fisherman, and Emilia Anggales Pilas, a used-clothes vendor.

I first met Ariana at her Hope Center after she received her food ration. She was so hungry that she ate sitting in the dirt outside the center.

What struck me most was her reaction when she saw me. She generously smiled at me and said, “Ate, kaon ta,” which means, “Big sister, let’s eat.” Even though she was hungry and obviously malnourished, it didn’t keep her from offering her meal to me. I held back my tears seeing her innocent eyes and smile. I just told her that I’d already eaten and asked her if I could take a photo of her. She agreed and smiled back at me.

Equipped to Give Back

Poverty never steals our core values if one knows the God who will always provide. That’s the advocacy and development work of Family Care and Community Development Initiatives (FCCDI) led by Pastor Gaddiel Gambe and Pastora Charlyn T. Gambe, and their wonderful and passionate team.

The health of children at Aplaya Hope Center in the Philippines improved quickly when they were given proper nourishment.

Among the Child Champions are Badjao leaders Pastor John Pilas, Rebecca Pilas, Esniriya Kasemero, Anna, Gemmalie, and Raya Pilas. They are equipped and discipled by FFCDI to give back to their community.

Maricris Perez joined the team as a social worker at the center. This team strives to change the poverty mindset of the Badjao in that a “begging mentality” is not the design of God for mankind. As this team exposed the children and families to God’s work, they responded with gratefulness.

Badjao people, also known as Sea Gypsies as they live on boats and fish for a living, are poor and mostly malnourished, especially the children, including Ariana.

She weighed only 37 pounds before the Hope Center food assistance program began. Most deaths among Sea Gypsies are due to poverty that leads to various sicknesses brought about by lack of proper nourishment.

Good Nutrition as a Human Right

This lack of proper nourishment among the Badjao prompted the leadership at Aplaya Hope Center to submit a SPARKs (Special Projects Aimed at Reaching Kids) proposal for nutritional feeding, which began in February 2021. According to Maricris, the children were given lunch with milk, vegetables, and fruits Monday through Friday to ensure that their bodies could recover from malnourishment and develop properly.

“The right to eat healthy and nutritious food is the right of all children, including Badjao children,” says Maricris. “It is clear that the good nutrition should be regarded as a fundamental human right. In the heart of a child, there is joy, there is laughter. There is hope. There is trust and a chance to shape the future. Thank you for being part of shaping the future for these children.”

She says the Child Champions at the center were thrilled to see the children physically improve after the program began. Now, the children seldom get sick, and they are thankful for the donors who helped provide nutritious food.

Ariana also showed improvement. She significantly gained weight, going from 35 pounds to 53 pounds within five months. Although her doctor says she is still considered severely underweight, he recommends continuing the feeding program and adding more meals each day together with milk and vitamins.

Finding Hope and Better Health

Maricris says it is her dream to see the Badjao children graduate from the OneChild program and flourish in life. She says that Ariana wants to be a teacher someday to help other Badjao children in their community and help their families financially by securing a permanent job. Maricris together with other Child Champions named their feeding program, “The Himsog Batang Badjao Project,” which means “Healthy Badjao Kids Project.” The feeding project aims to help the children become healthy physically, spiritually and socio-emotionally.

An African phrase says, “An empty stomach has no ears.” This is evident among Badjao kids. They have a short attention span, cry easily due to frustration, and have difficulty understanding learning concepts. According to Maricris, letter-writing is one of the most challenging activities at their Hope Center.

She says the Badjou kids still face a long journey to complete wellness and education, but they remain hopeful due to the generosity of the selfless Badjao leaders and other Child Champions who tirelessly serve the children every day and the generosity of the donors. These collaborative efforts contributed to the holistic development of these children.

Growth and development take time. With the right intervention and consistent efforts of Child Champions, sponsors, and donors, nothing is impossible.

With generosity, hope will arise. With hope, a brighter future is possible.

You can help protect kids from hunger and malnutrition by donating to the Children’s Crisis Fund today!

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