Taipei, Jan. 28 (CNA) The scourge of child malnutrition in several remote communities in the central Philippines is gradually improving after local families received training on how to prepare nutritious diets as part of a 17-month program funded by the Taiwan government.
The Integrated Action for Child Nutrition Project, funded by Taiwan's International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF) and executed by World Vision Philippines, was implemented from September 2018 to Jan. 15, 2020.
Under the project, which had a budget of US$300,000, a total of 2,920 parents and caregivers from more than 30 villages in the central Philippine provinces of Leyte and Samar received training on proper dietary and breast-feeding practices, according to ICDF, a development aid agency founded by Taiwan's foreign ministry.
In addition, underweight children received special help and three health facilities were either constructed or repaired, it said.
"The issue of child malnutrition caught my attention when I attended the World Health Assembly two years ago," Cathy Wang (???), head of ICDF's Humanitarian Assistance Department told CNA Jan. 21.
This is the first time ICDF has rolled out a project related to child nutrition, which is a global concern on a par with the refugee crisis, Wang said. That is why the ICDF chose World Vision Philippines, a leading organization in the field, as its implementing partner, she said.
"Many parents living in marginalized communities have poor dietary knowledge due to their lack of education," Wang said, citing an incident where she learned during a foreign visit that some local residents thought drinking soft drinks can cure their children when they are sick.
This demonstrates the importance of proper education on child nutrition, Wang said.
The project incorporates several different programs, such as training on feeding infants and young children, counseling sessions for parents and caregivers, hygiene and sanitation promotions, early childhood development learning sessions, and training nutrition hub implementers.
However, feeding sessions were not the centerpiece of the project Wang said, explaining that related programs are already carried out by many charity groups.
"The ICDF hoped to focus on something sustainable. In the case of child nutrition, the desired effects are usually seen in 10 years, and we believed it is best achieved by educating the parents," she said.
Two Taiwanese female volunteer workers were sent to the Philippines from January to April 2019. At the beginning, they had trouble staying in the homes of locals, because of the quality of potable water, insect bites and even short beds frames in which they were unable to stretch their legs, recalled Wang.
They were also sometimes scared by local young men who whistled at them whenever they walked in public, something that rarely happens in Taiwan, she said.
However, the volunteer workers overcame those difficulties by finding a balance between cultural and environmental differences and were able to accomplish their mission, which was to teach locals how to prepare balanced and nutritious diets using locally available ingredients.
The communities were happy with the results and improvements were seen, Mary Grace Santos, project staff worker at World Vision Philippines, told CNA in a phone interview on Jan. 21.
"The level of satisfaction for the project is 99 percent," Santos said, citing the results of a survey conducted before the end of the project.
Leyte and Samar are agricultural provinces with high levels of malnutrition due to high poverty and disaster-related risks, such as frequent typhoons, she said.
On average a family of five in the Philippines has an income of 10,481 pesos (US$225) for day-to-day needs, but in the two provinces, whose residents are mostly seasonal farm workers or carpenters, the average income for a family of six is less than 6,000 pesos, she said.
Although most local children do have food to eat, there is no diversity in intake and the food prepared for them is usually cheap and easy to cook like instant noodles, Santos lamented.
Under the project, village councilors were trained, who then trained parents and caregivers, explained Santos.
"The village councilors, parents and caregivers would meet regularly for training and had 12 sessions on every topic. The project also included 12 days feeding training sessions," she said.
However, not everyone was able to complete the courses because project locations were too far from their homes or conflict in work schedule, she said.
For those who diligently attended the training sessions, the effects were clearly noticeable, she said, citing an example in which a child with suspected kwashiorkor, a form of severe protein malnutrition, experienced clear physical changes after eight months of participation.
The main benefits of the project include higher meal diversity in families and an increase in exclusive breastfeeding, she said.
Based on recommendations from the communities, they indicated a willingness to proceed with the second phase of the project and even want to expand it to cover more municipalities, more children and families, Santos said.
The ICDF said it will decide whether to roll out phase two after thoroughly evaluating the benefits of phase one.
Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel