EmmaLeek's Travel Journals


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My first week

June 2013 - Bliss Sagkahan - San Juan Nutrition Project

San Juan Nutrition Project, Philippines

Philippines Tacloban City, Philippines  |  Jun 09, 2013
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 Heartbroken by how small the children are 

My first week has flown by; I am not sure where the time has gone! I have slowly settled in as everyone here is very friendly. My project coordinators, Ester and Odessa have been so helpful.

I am a nutrition volunteer here in Tacloban City. To get to the feeding center which is near the town of Santa Fe, the main mode of transport involves taking a jeepney (usually you are packed on with very little space to move or see where you are going as they are designed for the petite Filipino size). I feel like a giant in comparison! Before arriving at the nutrition project, the volunteers visit Palo market to buy the ingredients for the children’s meal. The food is much cheaper here in the Philippines compared with the UK. After taking two jeepney rides, the final stage involves riding a motorcycle. I could not believe at first that the driver carries three passengers on to one vehicle with no safety helmets or protective clothing.

On placement, the volunteers work as a team with the Nanays (Mothers) of the children to prepare nutritious meals. The Nanays are brilliant and they love to assist you in any way possible. They are very appreciative of what the volunteers do. On arrival, as a group we explain what we would like to prepare on each day and how the dish will be cooked. This allows the Mothers to learn new, healthier cooking methods. During food preparation, I explain the basic health benefits of the ingredients being used so they can understand and feel motivated to improve the children’s health. You have to keep watch on the amount of oil, salt and sugar they use; they know it is not good for them but they like their dishes to be strongly seasoned so they still try to sneak more in!

Whilst the food is cooking, the volunteers play with the children. At first, some of the children were a little shy but once they have seen you a couple of times they get used to seeing your face. The children love looking at picture books and playing games. I brought some nutrition colouring worksheets along with me from home to try to encourage the parents and children to eat healthily and make changes to their current choices. Examples include:

-       Drawing sheet of all the fruits and veggies I ate today

-       Healthy eating on a budget handout

-       Healthy eating guidelines

-       Effects of an unbalanced diet

-       The eat well plate

-       The main food groups

-       Benefits of fruits and vegetables

-       Naming fruits in English

-       Food groups on food pyramid

The children seem to enjoy participating in these simple activities. They were also extremely grateful for the stationary I gave to them to use as they are taking very good care of it. In addition, I provided the Nanays with more detailed handouts showing them what their children should be eating and in the correct portion sizes.

Before eating, volunteers are responsible for ensuring the children wash their hands thoroughly after playing. You shout “time to wash hands!” and the children come running. I have shown the children the 5 steps to hand washing. Once everybody is ready, the feeding begins. The children bring their own bowl up to the serving table and at the same time a register is taken to monitor attendance. The children are served small portions as otherwise they may take the food home and share with their family. The children and Mothers are encouraged to sit around the table together during meal times to create good eating habits. If there are any leftovers, the children love to have a second helping. There is never any food that goes to waste here in the Philippines.

Every other Thursday, the children’s height and weight are measured. Each child is malnourished and below the expected growth percentile ranks. I was heartbroken by how small the children are. I also noticed that their dental health is very poor. This is another reason to ensure the Mothers understand that reducing sugar content in their meals will help to reduce the risk of  tooth decay. On Friday, the volunteers decided to have a treat day for the children as there was enough money left over from the weekly budget. We cooked spaghetti. It was lovely to see how excited the children were when they heard what the dish was as in the Philippines this meal is usually only eaten on special occasions.

I am looking forward to the next weighing session as it will be extremely rewarding to see some improvement in the children. I love being part of this project! Knowing I am helping to make a difference to such grateful people makes this trip exceedingly worthwhile.

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  • User Profile Photo
    EmmaLeek's journal made AbigailKinder smile Tue Jul 2, 2013
    do smile
    Hi Emma,

    I'm coming to Tacloban in September, reading your journal is getting me rather excited. Is this everything i should expect to come? What was your home share like?

    Any advice would be brilliant

  • San Juan Nutrition Project, Philippines

    June 09, 2013
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