Grassroots & Governance

When he was president of the Ateneo de Manila University, Jesuit Fr. Bienvenido Nebres developed a program of outreach to public schools as a way of expressing its Christian values of compassion for the less privileged. Because social surveys indicated high incidence of hunger which had gone as high as 30% of families in the earlier 2000s, the program Fr. Nebres mobilized consisted of putting up centralized kitchens to provide nutritious packed lunches to public school children.
Studies had also revealed that high drop-out rates among grade school children were often caused by hunger, or the need to work or forage for food instead of going to school. Inadequate nutrition also caused low learning capacity among our poor children.
When he joined the board of Gawad Kalinga, (GK) Nebres advocated adding another dimension to GK’s successful anti-poverty programs. Gawad Kalinga quickly adopted the tested centralized kitchen concept and linked up with local government units and national government agencies at the local levels to get the program moving. Local governments provided the centralized kitchens, equipment (stoves, large kettles, delivery multicabs, and motorcycles, etc.) and cooking and packing tools and facilities. Local Department of Education (DepEd) provided access to elementary school students and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) facilitated access to day care centers and SNP (Supervised Neighborhood Play) kids.
Working together with the local governments, GK also mobilized Corporate Social Responsibility support from the business communities. Best of all, parents were mobilized as volunteers. These volunteers did menial and necessary kitchen work such as peeling and slicing camotes, washing and slicing vegetables, washing and cooking rice and cooking and packing all the food for distribution to the target beneficiaries.
After piloting the concept successfully in a few LGUs, Gawad Kalinga’s Kusina ng Kalinga (KNK) has expanded to many provinces all over the country. KNK is now present in Tacurong City, Parang, Maguindanao, Maco, Compostela Valley, Bongao, Tawi-tawi, Mamasapano and Rajah Buayan, Maguindanao, Butuan City and Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao.
In the Visayas, KNK also operates in Alang-alang and San Agustin towns in Leyte, and Hernani in Eastern Samar. It has just launched KNK in Cebu in San Remigio town where it is working with Mayor Mariano Martinez who volunteered to operate the pilot for Cebu.
In Luzon and Metro Manila, KNK is present in Quezon City, Nagcarlan, Laguna, Angat, Bulacan, San Gabriel, La Union, Baguio City and in Oas, Albay.
The geographic breadth of operations of KNK makes me wonder if the recent good news from Social Weather Stations that incidence of involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months among families has gone down to 9.9% nationally from its high of close to 30% about 10-12 years ago is at least partly due to this innovative, community-based centralized kitchens multi-sectoral initiative. Although the incidence of involuntary hunger during the past three months per the SWS survey in March this year seems low at 9.9%, in numbers it is still quite high at 2.3 million total families (Metro Manila estimated at 190,000 families, Balance Luzon, estimated at 1.1 million families, Visayas at 583,000 families and Mindanao estimated at 390,000 families).
Evaluation of impact studies on the Ateneo pre-cursor kitchens as well as those in Maco, Compostela Valley have demonstrated that one full meal a day for 120 days can bring struggling, hungry kids back to normal nutritional status. This approach to rapidly reducing involuntary hunger and malnutrition among our children is a godsend!
The volunteer parents not only experience the psychic reward from participating in ensuring better health and hope for the children’s future, they also benefit from sessions on family values formation incorporated into the program design.
Each central kitchen can feed 1000-5000 kids every school day with vegetable-based meals. Operating hours are from 4 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wherever possible, raw materials for food are sourced in the local area. Where some ingredients are not available, local farmers are encouraged to plant needed ingredients.
The good news, hard to believe, is yes, we can end hunger among our children. Yes, we can help keep them in school. After all, tuition in public schools, which comprise about 90% of our schools, is free! And yes, we can mobilize corporate social responsibility and family volunteerism in our country to deal with this basic problem.
And yes, the government, and I am talking here about local governments, is capable of dealing with this problem of hunger and helping to end it.
Thank God for the Local Government Code which president Cory Aquino signed in 1991. LGUs can mobilize resources to help solve this problem. We have not yet fully appreciated their capacity to address our most serious development problems. With more funding support from the national government, LGUs can do more. Certainly, they are more responsive to community concerns than the national bureaucracy.
I had the good fortune of attending the End Hunger Summit at the Provincial Capitol of Cebu last Friday and to listen to the opening remarks by Jesuit Fr. Nebres.
Being a mathematician, I am sure Fr. Nebres kept track of measurable impact of Ateneo’s centralized kitchen interventions.
On the volunteerism that Ateneo was able to mobilize, Fr. Nebres said of the mothers’ shared stories on their experiences as kitchen volunteers, “most important, their hearts were open.”
Governor Tyron Uy of Compostela province shared a report which detailed the provincial government’s contributions to the Bayanihan para sa Kalusugan (local counterpart of GK’s Kusina ng Kalinga): 14 central kitchens, 17 drivers, 17 vehicles, 950 liters fuel allocation per week and honorarium for some kitchen staff.
Mayor Mariano Martinez of San Remigio town was passionate when he described his heartfelt experiences in helping feed the hungry kids in the town’s schools. Mayor Martinez disclosed that San Remigio has set up two central kitchens from which 5,256 children are being fed each school day. During the summer break, San Remigio continues to feed 1,745 kids in Day Care Centers and Supervised Neighborhood Play areas (for 2-3-year-old kids). Toby Florendo, volunteer coordinator for GK in Cebu gave credit to many private sector volunteers including executives and BPO agents such as those from Tech Mahindra who gave of their spare time to do menial work in the centralized kitchens.
Following the replicable model demonstrated successfully in San Remigio, Cebu province will launch the program in three other towns notably Samboan where there is the highest malnutrition and child stunting rates:
During the End Hunger Summit, GK Cebu distributed Pledge forms with check lists providing options in number of meals to be funded from signatory’s donations. Each meal in Cebu costs P15. Therefore, P15 x 22 days x 10 months totals P3,300 to feed one child a year. GK Cebu can be reached at tel. no. (032) 266-1288. Other options are to volunteer as kitchen crew in one of the KnK Kitchens, or to initiate fund-raising activity for Kusina ng Kalinga (Kusina sa Kahimsug ug Pag-amuma in Cebu). For other areas, GK’s Kusina ng Kalinga can be reached through e-mail (
We have found the formula. We can end hunger sooner rather than later by getting involved with time, talent, and/or treasure. The business community can make a huge difference.
In her closing remarks at the End Hunger Summit last week, Jobel Davide, wife of Governor Hilario Davide III and KKP ambassador cited a quote from Nelson Mandela, “Overcoming poverty is not an act of charity; it is an act of justice.”
Teresa S. Abesamis is a former professor at the Asian Institute of Management and an independent development management consultant.