Daily Bread

Special feeding program in Manila gives hope to impoverished children

A mother feeds her child during a feeding by Our Lady of Peace Foundation in Manila. The non-profit ensures that the most impoverished youth at least have one meal a day. © Adam R. Cole 2008

A young Filipino boy eagerly awaits meal time. © Adam R. Cole 2008

The absolute destitution seen in their living conditions makes the stomach churn, troubles the mind – can people really live like this?, taking shelter in waste products of rest of the urban world. They call it a squatters village, a shanty-town type set up erected inside the urban gaps, the vacant lots, the land that borders rivers, and the back alleys. A few boards of wood and some scrap metal become home. The smell of fire (as trash burns) mixes stench of a general dirtiness as a result of waste products and a lack of sewage. The faces and bodies of those that live here are soiled, due to what could be days, weeks, or even months without a proper shower.

Amidst the rubble, this wreckage of life, where entire families pile into a shack-like arrangement no bigger than a dorm room or fit into what seems like a shoe box under a bridge, is hope – hope because of the children.

Thanks to an faith-based organization with a heart for the poor (Foundation of Our Lady of Peace Mission, Inc.), started and run by nuns, the children of these poverty-stricken zones are put into a special day care program that offers education and a lunch-time meal. The feeding program is a unique set up whereby parents form into a cooperative in that they share a stipend and responsibilities (purchasing goods, serving, cleaning) in order to give their children food lunch Monday through Friday. The objective here is to stop malnourishment in children, one of the saddest realities of this wasted world. Kids remain in the feed program until they reach a normal weight.

Assembled in a makeshift cafeteria, a structure very similar to the ‘homes’ here, kids smile, laugh and act with glee during their daily feeding. Moms smile too, seeing their kids food and growing, even though the next meal might not be as certain.

Placing full plates of rice and chicken in front of these young children, one can connect with that moment of happiness, share in it, and even produce it by offering a much-needed smile. You bend down next to one kid, grab the spoon laying on the tray, pick up a load of rice and feed it into the mouth of the young child; the child slowly chews, his/her tiny teeth mincing at the rice and stares aimlessly, not a care, only wonder. The morsels of nutrients are true manna – God’s provision.

The feeding program’s sponsor foundation, Foundation of Our Lady of Peace Mission, Inc. was launched and continues to be overseen by Sister Eva Fidelo Maamo, a woman whose heart that is and has always been for the poor. At first against her will and then because of her desire to be with marginalized people, Sister Eva, a surgeon by trade, spent 7 years in the mountains of Lake Cebu treating tribal peoples in the area. Not too long after that experience, she started the foundation, which seeks to provide total human development (education, health, values-formation, spiritual growth) to Philippine’s most disadvantaged people, primarily the urban poor and tribal peoples. Mention her accolades and Sister Eva responds modestly and simply: “God’s work.”

The end result of that work is happy children. They are like any children, and for that normality, it is a blessing. And through the education they receive as a result of dedicated social workers employed by the foundation, a window is opened to a potential better life. With the help of scholarships, it is estimated that 20 squatter children from throughout Manila graduate college every year. That end result might be lost on the kids at this age, 3-5, but one thing is certain: there lives are shaped by the love around them. And though food may be a scarcity, love, as given by strong-willed mothers (and from God above) is in abundance.