Hunger in Bukidnon public schools alarms authorities

Dr. Gloria Benigno, DepEd Bukidnon schools division superintendent, said hunger among elementary pupils and high school students during class hours" is on top of the concerns encountered by Bukidnon teachers."

Benigno said they will still study the situation but added she has called for a joint public and private sector effort to address it. She said she had been hearing about the problem from teachers.

The problem struck her hard, however, during the recently concluded Child Friendly School System Conference in Pampanga where Bukidnon was rated "high" in food vulnerability in a survey conducted by the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef).

"I was alarmed by the report, which I came to know about during the conference," she said.

Education supervisor Edilberto Oplinaria, formerly a head teacher from Lantapan said the case was especially true in the rural areas.

"But it is also very present even in urbanized areas," Benigno stressed.

Benigno said both elementary and high school students, especially in the rural areas bring food with them when they attend classes. "But it will only last up to lunch time," Benigno told MindaNews this week.

Benigno said a teacher from a school in a remote barangay told her some students bring a piece of boiled cassava root and a piece of cheap dried fish.

She said students lack the energy and attention to finish the afternoon classes because they eat their packed lunch during the morning recess.

But while hunger is a concern, she noted that Bukidnon also performed well in nutrition evaluations.  "I really wonder why," she said.

She said many of the hungry students sleep during class hours in the afternoon.

She said they are trying to find means to address the problem. Benigno mentioned feeding programs conducted over the years in different areas. She cited different donors extending contributions for noodles and other foodstuff.

But Benigno said they are trying to avoid a dole-out scheme. "It won't help. What if the supply runs out?" she asked.

Benigno said they have eyed the hiring of school garden caretakers. She said funds should be raised to pay a gardener who could manage school gardens to produce enough supply of nutritious food such as squash, mongo seeds and malunggay or Moringa.

She said most of the schools in the province have enough space for gardens.

"We could provide better food to the school children regularly. That could be sustained," she said.

In Davao City last month, the Parents-Teachers Association of the Davao City National High School (DCNHS) launched a "supplemental feeding" to provide free lunch to students who go to school on empty stomachs.

Students were also encouraged to plant vegetables within campus. The produce will be used in the supplemental feeding. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)