Community kitchens in evacuation centers help prevent malnutrition among young children displaced from Marawi

Jaslia Mambuay, a member of the Modern Nanays of Mindanao community kitchen team at the Buru-un evacuation center in Iligan City, cooks pinakbet, a Filipino vegetable dish. Community kitchen programs provide nutritious meals to children and pregnant and breastfeeding women living in evacuation centers. ©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Bobby Lagsa

On 26 May 2017, Jaslia Mambuay and her family fled Marawi to escape the armed conflict in the city. They took shelter in the Buru-un evacuation center in Iligan City, more than 30 kilometers north of Marawi. “It took a while for us to settle in this new environment because of fatigue, hunger, thirst and fear,” she said.

Although relief goods were provided, the food items were not sufficient and varied to meet the nutritional needs of families and children displaced by the conflict. “I was most worried for the pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and their young children because they don’t get enough nutrition every day,” Jaslia said.

Mothers and caregivers are served a nutritious lunch of pinakbet, a Filipino vegetable dish, and bananas. Community kitchen programs in evacuation centers provides nutritious meals to all children 6 months to 5 years old, and all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. ©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Bobby Lagsa

Jaslia started to help others in her new community by washing utensils and properly disposing of the garbage to maintain cleanliness. “Some mothers are busy taking care of their children, so I have to do my part to help them,” she said.

Today, she’s a lead cook in the community kitchen program of Modern Nanays of Mindanao, one of the nutrition partners responding to the needs of displaced children, mothers and caregivers in evacuation centres. Together with health workers and her fellow volunteers, Jaslia cooks nutritious meals every day to feed all children 6 months to 5 years old, and all pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, staying in the Buru-un evacuation center.

Children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition are referred to a therapeutic feeding program, where they receive special food and care to address their condition.

Other organizations and partners who are implementing community kitchen programs are BANGUN ARMM of the Department of Social Welfare & Development, the Nutritionist-Dietitians’ Association of the Philippines and Samaritan’s Purse.

A health worker checks the nutritional status of a child at the Buru-un evacuation center in Iligan City. Emergencies and displacement increases the risk of malnutrition among children affected. ©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Bobby Lagsa

Children are among the most vulnerable in emergency situations. They face increased risk of malnutrition because of the lack of food and clean water. The movement of people and congestion in evacuation centers also increase the risk of children getting communicable diseases like diarrhea and pneumonia.

To help keep children displaced from Marawi healthy, UNICEF, with funding from the Government of Japan, has been supporting emergency nutrition programs in evacuation centers. Activities supported by UNICEF include:

  • Screening children for malnutrition
  • Treating children diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition
  • Counselling mothers and caregivers on breastfeeding and appropriate complementary feeding for young children
  • Micronutrient supplementation; and
  • Monitoring violations of the Milk Code, a law in the Philippines that prohibits donations of infant formula in emergencies

These activities are done in coordination with the Department of Health and the Nutrition emergency response cluster, which UNICEF co-leads. “We hope that by supporting these programs, young children will stay healthy while they are living in evacuation centers,” said Dr. Sally Bataclan, UNICEF’s Health & Nutrition Specialist who is based in Mindanao.

Community kitchen teams are composed of government health workers and volunteers from the evacuation center. They cook nutritious meals every day for young children and pregnant and breastfeeding women in the evacuation center. ©UNICEF Philippines/2017/Bobby Lagsa

Jaslia’s team cooks many dishes using fresh ingredients that they receive like fish, vegetables, eggs and fruits. Even the snacks are nutritious — they serve sweet potatoes in the afternoon. 
 
“I just want to go home to Marawi with my family, but that’s not possible yet,” Jaslia said.

The government declared the liberation of the city on 29 October 2017. While displaced people wait for the military to finish clearing the affected areas and declaring them safe, Jaslia’s role in the evacuation center keeps her busy and gives her a sense of purpose. “Cooking for others brings me joy and helps me forget our bad experiences,” she said.


By Richel V. Umel

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