by DAR-Agusan del Sur
Deep in the remote area of La Paz, Agusan del Sur, in a dusty barangay Sagunto where life is hard and food is scarce, a four-year-old girl’s eyes were glazed with discomfort. She sat on her mother’s lap and wearily gnawed on a hard root crop and stared vacantly at one corner where fellow kids of her age were playing.
In a family of five, her parents simply couldn’t keep up with the needs of her family. Her father, being a seasonal construction worker, earns a meager while her mom is left at home to take care of her and her two siblings.
Life is really a constant struggle for Arabella’s family. Rubie, her mother, is beaming with pain every time she sees her children weeping for something to eat. It seems to have drifted her dreams for her kids, especially for young Arabella, who, at a young age have shown so much interest in education.
Bella, her nickname, is a child with ambition. She was described by many to be diligent and responsible.
“We were getting used to the habit of managing hunger. It was a challenge to get food for more than once in a day. I remember one time, it was raining and we were feasting on a piece of dried fish and rice for dinner as that was the only food I could buy for them, Bella uttered how she wanted to go to school,” her mother narrated.
“Ma, gusto na gyud ko mo skwela, kung pwede didto lang sa sentro kay maayo daw motudlo si teacher Gloria (Ma, I really want to go to school, if it’s possible in the town where teacher Gloria is teaching),” were her exact words.
“Nak among paningkamotan sa imong papa ha kay gasto baya kaayo mamasahe pa ug balon pa gyud nimo, unsaon nalang nato naa pa baya kay duha ka igsoon (Your father will give his best effort, yet we must also consider that we might not be able to afford it since it will be too expensive, and you still have your two other little siblings),” came Rubie’s response.
Being born into a poor family, Bella was exposed to this self-sacrifice at an earlier age. She became independent and self-reliant.
For Bella’s parents, hearing those words and seeing sincerity on their daughter’s interest motivates them to work doubly hard. They look forward to achieving her dreams no matter how hard it is, even if it has to be an uphill climb.
Came June 2018, Rubie took the risk of enrolling Bella in La Paz Day Care Center. She doesn’t know by then if it would ever last if she could really survive the brawl but nevertheless, all she knew and she could ever hope for is for her young Arabella to pursue her dreams.
Everyday, Rubie wakes her up at 4:00 in the morning to start the long haul. She would prepare their breakfast and uniform while Bella helped her in cleaning the house.
After taking breakfast, and when everything else falls in place, they would catch the early ride to downtown La Paz. Once in a blue moon, they would hitch in their neighbor’s service. But most often, they would ride in habal-habal for P60.00 back and forth fare.
Apart from the foreseen financial struggle, Rubie was also taken aback after contemplating that she could not continually provide for Bella’s food. During those times when she doesn’t have extra money for her baon, she would tell Bella to skip the class, but the young Arabella constantly refused to do so, instead, she would always tell her mother to never bother finding her baon.
“I thought of how easy it would be to drift away into nothingness. I thought of how easy it would be to not have to get up every morning to face another day of emptiness. I thought of the peace I would have if I were no longer afraid all the time and how wonderful it would be to be free from the prison of my mind,” Rubie said.
But that was just a thought. In reality, it was really hard. Yet, there is one belief that sits in the back of her mind that keeps her going day after day. It’s hope.
There is always something that she hoped for. she hoped for change, for strength, for love. She hoped that things won’t always be as they have been. She hoped for intervention from the government to end poverty.
True enough, her prayers were answered. One day, the Department of Agrarian Reform thru the project coordinator Engr. Hanizarah Saripada and Rachelle Monique Torralba came to La Paz to bring forth the good news on the new project called the Partnership Against Hunger and Poverty or PAHP.
It is a collaborative effort between the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Agrarian Reform, and the Department of Agriculture to engage poor households and work closely with the rural communities to provide essential social and economic services toward eliminating hunger and alleviating poverty.
This collaborative multi-stakeholder program will target the creation of a community food hub to serve as a facility that can store food items for the various feeding programs of the DSWD and other similar on the ground programs of other agencies like the education, health, and local government units.
Smallholder farmer organizations such as LAMPUFACO in La Paz was tasked to ensure a steady food supply for various feeding programs for Day Care Centers including that of Arabella’s school.
Mothers, like Rubie, were grouped into five to take charge on the preparation of the meal 5 times a week.
“It was a big help for us really. Everything was provided for us. All we have to do is to cook the required menu for the day,” Rubie said.
Besides, the menu is prepared carefully to ensure that the nutritional value will never be compromised. Thus, making the children more participative during class activities.
“It’s crucial not to just feed children but to nourish them too, said Engr. Hanizarah Saripada, PAHP project coordinator. The more the child is nourished, the more she becomes smarter, and we are aiming for this to happen to the 10,000 children of Agusan del Sur who will benefit the program,” she continued.
Indeed it is.
Gloria Fuentes, the teacher, attests that since the feeding program commenced, she saw a lot of improvements in her students. Bella, in particular, became active during class recitation and activities. Her young mind was honed even more.
Because of the program, she doesn’t have to skip class, she doesn’t have to recite and read in an empty stomach. She became less aloof. In fact, she topped the class during their recognition day.
Arabella became a picture of a happy and contented child. “Salamat kaayo sa akong mama nga wala ko pasagdi sa akong pangandoy nga maka skwela diri sa La Paz Day Care Center ug salamat pod sa PAHP program sa DAR nga natabangan ang among kalisod, dili na magproblema akong mama sa akong baon kada adlaw (Thank you to my mother for not giving up on my dreams to study in La Paz Day Care Center. Thank you as well to the PAHP program of DAR, it really helped my mother not to bother finding my baon every day),” she said.
For Rubie, it doesn’t matter what circumstance she had in her life. She managed to stand up and think about how she can make it better. She is forever thankful for the program and for the people behind its implementation.
Because of PAHP, there is hope for children like Arabella. (Rechel Besonia, DAR-Agusan del Sur/PIA-Agusan del Sur)