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Poverty isn’t easy to kill

Poverty
Philippines
Philippine children

Many children in the Philippines live in poverty. © Iris Gonzales

‘Poverty is a many-hearted monster,’ says lawyer Jaime Hofilena, incumbent vice-president for Social Development at the Ateneo Center for Educational Development. Ateneo is a Catholic university in the Philippines.

I am listening to Hofilena’s words not in an academic lecture but at the launch of a feeding programme of Invisible, a British-registered charity.

Hofilena, whose group is Invisible’s partner for the project, says that poverty isn’t easy to kill. It has many hearts and it will keep on living even if you are able to kill a part of it.

Even if we strive to kill a big part of poverty, there’s a chance it will resurrect itself.

Hofilena shares the story of a child he encountered in one of the country’s public schools. One day, the child nearly fainted. Upon prodding, the child confessed. It was Thursday, and therefore his turn in his family not to eat; his parents could not afford to feed all five children every day.

The stories are as endless as they are varied. In the Philippines, poverty is not just a many-hearted monster; it is also a deadly beast.

Despite robust growth trumpeted by the government, millions suffer hunger in the Philippines every day.

The latest government statistics showed that poverty among Filipinos has improved little, despite improving economic growth. It eased to 24.9 per cent in the first quarter of last year, compared to 27.9 per cent recorded in the same period in 2012.

But the statistics only show part of the whole picture. In the country’s public schools, there are hundreds of students who are suffering from malnutrition.

This is what Invisible, together with the Ateneo, hopes to change – starting today, at the launch of the feeding programme here at the Holy Spirit Elementary School.

Invisible founder Adina Belloli says that the organization hopes to be able to put 1,000 children on the programme: ‘It is good for one year, but we have committed to feeding these children until they graduate from Holy Spirit school. Included in the programme are livelihood training and job opportunities for mothers of beneficiary children, and nutrition education,’ she says.

The programme currently has 500 student beneficiaries, all of whom are malnourished. Belloli says the target is to enrol 1,000 children with the help of its global donors and pledges through its website.

The group named the organization Invisible because children in poverty are made to feel invisible by society. But the charity hopes to change that.

Teri Lindsey, project officer at the Ateneo, explained during the launch that the programme hopes to lay a foundation for lifelong healthy eating based on positive experiences and the acquisition of sufficient skills and confidence in one’s ability to lead a healthy lifestyle.

The programme’s components include a daily lunch for 130 days, education for parents, community volunteerism and alliance building to ensure the future of the programme.

I look around the hall. The children are excited and hopeful. They have wide smiles on their faces, thankful for whatever help they can get. Belloli and other members of her group are just as excited.

It is not easy to defeat poverty but, as Hofilena says, we must grab every chance or opportunity to kill the many-hearted monster. 

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