Curbing malnutrition in North Cotabato and Maguindanao
by Dr. Paul Andrew Zambrano
Recurring emergencies due to armed conflict and natural disasters in this region – combined with challenges on appropriate infant and young child feeding practices, and high incidences of diseases – threaten the well-being of young children here.
I personally wish to thank UNICEF donors and supporters, and tell them how they help improve the lives of children in Mindanao.
Malnutrition among Filipino children
I manage a program that treats severely malnourished children in Maguindanao and North Cotabato, two conflict-affected provinces.
Rewarding experiences in the field
Despite the negative perceptions people have of Central Mindanao, we have seen the leadership and drive of government to ensure that this pioneering program succeeds. Working with various partners, we were able to establish a nutrition program that has benefitted thousands of children. I believe what the local health staff has accomplished in both areas also serves as an example for the rest of the country to follow.
Every child we’re able to cure successfully is an emotional experience for us. When we first see them, they’re very thin and wasted, hardly moving, hardly interacting, and looking very close to dying.
But in just a couple of weeks, they begin to move much more, smile, and look and act like regular children. Sometimes a child changes so much in just one week that I could hardly recognize him or her.
It’s not just seeing the life coming back to these children that makes the experience very moving. We also see a change in their mothers and fathers, who show renewed hope in their faces and a sense of pride in their role in their child’s recovery.
I have also seen dramatic changes in the attitudes of community health staff in our target areas who now view their role as health workers with a stronger sense of relevance and purpose.
The stories of all these children, parents, and community workers continue to touch and motivate me. I believe I have also changed so much as a person, and for the better, with these experiences.
UNICEF on the ground
I enjoy working with UNICEF because we are able to take global innovations, work with global experts, and access the most relevant studies and research in order to establish programs localized for the Philippines – interventions that make a tangible impact.
This impact is not only felt at the level of each child. Working with UNICEF has provided me the opportunity to influence positive, long-term change at the level of the household or barangay on one hand, and the highest levels of government on the other.
One day I could be in a small health center in Maguindanao, teaching barangay health workers how to properly measure the weight and height of children. A couple of days later, I would be in a meeting with the Secretary of Health, discussing national guidelines on the treatment of malnutrition.
The work is challenging, exciting, occasionally surreal, yet intensely gratifying in reaching the most vulnerable Filipino children. It also allows me to continuously learn and develop, while helping me achieve my personal goal, which is to make a lasting difference in the lives of my countrymen.
Again, I would like to express my heartfelt thanks to you, our donors and supporters.
I have personally experienced how your support has translated into life-saving interventions and programs for the most vulnerable children and their families.
We have achieved a lot, but there is still much to be done, as we face challenges both old and new. With the support of people like you, we will continue to give more children in need the chance to live and grow normally, study, play, laugh, and experience the joys of childhood, far from dangers or threats.