Ready and willing, I was all geared up for our trip to the village of Campawan in Baganga, Davao Oriental -- one of two provinces in Mindanao, Philippines, that was badly hit by Typhoon Bopha. When my colleagues saw me in rubber shoes, they asked me if I was ready to get them wet when we reached the village. They told me that we would be crossing a small river by raft and our feet would definitely get wet.
I found out later that our feet would not only get wet but they would be dipped into the mud to the point that I had to walk by foot instead of digging every now and then through the mud just to get my slippers. I also did not expect that we would have to take a 6km motorcycle ride through a rocky, hilly, winding road.
Among the 11 localities of Davao Oriental, Baganga ranks second in terms of malnutrition prevalence. It ranks first among the three municipalities that were extremely devastated. If left untreated, the condition of malnourished children could worsen and the risk of these children getting sick and eventually dying due to low body immune systems will increase.
This prevalence of malnutrition among children is an indication that even before Typhoon Bopha hit Baganga, the locality was already experiencing persistent food insecurity and other related risk factors leading to malnutrition, such as poor mother and child care practices, inadequate health services, and poor hygiene and environmental sanitation.
Because of this situation, Plan – in partnership with UNICEF and Save the Children – will be expanding its current nutrition response programme in Baganga.
I decided to initially visit the village of Campawan, one of the farthest and hardest-to-reach villages in Baganga. I wanted to have an idea of how many malnourished children were in the village and how they had been coping with the situation. I spoke with some school children and learnt that not a single family has left the village despite the situation.
“Mindanao is the land of promise,” the children told me, “so we will never leave this place.” When asked where they get their food, the parents said most of them depend on relief goods. They are wondering when more relief goods will be available to them. Their vegetable gardens have been washed out; their hogs and chickens died.
It’s difficult for them to buy food at reasonable cost with the small savings they have. The cost of transportation to go to the market is expensive. When asked if the practice of breastfeeding is highly practiced, the midwife said there are few mothers who practice exclusive breastfeeding, especially among teenage mothers.
Most teenage mothers leave their babies under the care of their own mothers, even if they are in the village; hence babies are not breastfed. I saw four children aged 2-3 years old carried by their mothers. Without having to use the usual tool to detect if they are undernourished, it was obvious that they are experiencing malnutrition just from looking at the thinness of their biceps, the dryness and paleness of their skin, their gloomy eyes, and the passive reactions when greeted.
I hope to go back to Baganga soon and support the implementation of the local government’s nutrition programme. The window of opportunity of a bright future for the children of Campawan is now. It cannot wait!
-- Malou Sevilla is child protection advisor for health for Plan International in the Philippines.
Plan Philippines is currently raising an additional US$2 million to support victims who have been affected by Typhoon Bopha in Davao Oriental and Compostela Valley in Mindanao. Plan has already raised US$2.4 million for its emergency response efforts, focused on providing water kits, hygiene kits and shelter.