When Stephen McKnight first arrived in the Philippines to take up his new post as director of Childcare Community Ministries Philippines (CCMP), he thought he was prepared for his first encounter with the hungry, malnourished children he knew he would find. Having lived in other countries with high levels of poverty, he thought he was accustomed to the sights, sounds, and smells of extreme poverty.
He was wrong.
As he walked through a neighborhood in an urban slum, stunted children with bloated stomachs, open sores, and hollow eyes were everywhere. He didn’t see a single child that appeared truly healthy.
“I learned in that moment the unique severity of urban poverty and the crushing burden of malnutrition,” McKnight explained.
Although many of the children he saw that day were too old to ever completely recover from the ravages of malnutrition, the permanence of their situation motivated him to resolve to do everything he could to help these children—and others like them for whom it was not yet too late.
Asia’s Little Ones asked Stephen McKnight (SM) to tell our readers and friends about the needs and opportunities to help children like those who moved his heart. Here is that conversation.
What is malnutrition?
SM Malnutrition is a condition in which the human body is starved of the vital nutrients it needs to be healthy. It’s particularly a problem for children, whose bodies need the proper fuel to grow and develop properly. The first 1,000 days of life (from conception to age 2) lay a foundation for mental and physical development that will impact a child for the remainder of his or her life. Many, but not all, of the consequences of malnutrition can be corrected if they are treated with proper nutrition by the age of 5. Once a child reaches 5 years of age, many problems caused by inadequate nutrition become permanent issues that children will suffer with their whole lives. What I hope people will understand about malnutrition is the urgency of the need for intervention and the long-term consequences of inaction.
Why is malnutrition such a big problem in the Philippines?
Malnutrition stems from multiple issues that interact with each other: chronic poverty, unemployment, low wages, the high cost of healthy food com-pared to highly processed food, and a lack of education for parents regarding children’s nutritional needs. On top of these issues, many expectant mothers are undernourished themselves, and therefore the children they carry are undernourished as well. Many children have limited access to healthy, vitamin- rich food and easy access to nutrient-deficient, sugar-laden food.
What is the solution?
No single solution will turn the tide in the Philippines’ fight against malnutrition. But steps taken toward improving parental understanding of proper nutrition for their children, emphasizing the importance of good nutrition for expectant mothers, and focusing on nutritional assistance for kids age 5 and under can prevent or mitigate the long-term consequences of undernutrition.
What does CCMP do to help?
We try to mitigate the consequences of undernutrition by providing temporary nutritional assistance, access to healthcare professionals, and family education about nutrition and healthy living. We partner with local churches, who host 25–30 children each weekday for five months. Currently, nearly 500 children participate in our program each weekday. These kids receive a healthy, balanced meal, vitamins, a toothbrush, and age-appropriate health education.
What makes CCMP so effective in battling malnutrition?
Unlike many other feeding programs, CCMP does not establish permanent centers that feed the same children indefinitely. Rather, we seek to enhance the local church’s presence in the community and strengthen their capacity to minister to those in their own backyard. CCMP partners with local churches to host feeding interventions designed to pull children out of malnutrition and incorporate families into the local church. We do this through strategic partnership with church leaders and local volunteers. When a family participates in a CCMP feeding program, they develop relationships with others in their community and with a local church rather than with staff from the out-side. Each station feeds 25 children each weekday for five months. In addition, CCMP provides access to a trained healthcare professional, healthcare lessons, and parenting seminars. The local church also hosts daily and weekly Bible classes for the children and their parents.
How is ALO helping?
ALO has been our chief source of funding for several years. Funds from ALO cover the cost of purchasing food and medicine and providing the children with a weekly checkup from a trained healthcare professional. Without ALO, we would be forced to reduce the number of children we serve on a daily basis from 500 to 100, and we would need to lay off most of the healthcare workers. In many of our feeding locations, the children CCMP serves have access to no other government or nongovernment programs.
What more can friends of ALO do to help?
The first thing is to educate themselves about the causes and consequences of malnutrition so they can speak out on behalf of children who wake up each morning not knowing when or where their next meal will come from. Second, we urge them to continue their generous financial support of programs like CCMP who go to where children are suffering and serve children endangered by malnutrition.
Being surrounded by such great need must get discouraging. What keeps you going?
An image I will never forget is simple, yet for me, incredibly moving. Actually, it’s two images—before and after—that together keep me going when the road becomes challenging. At one feeding location in Metro Manila, I saw a teenage mother who was clearly undernourished herself carrying a boy so small I thought he could not be more than a year old. He was covered in sores and, when the nurse weighed him, he didn’t even make the bottom end of the weight chart. He was actually 3 years old and severely undernourished. I watched that little boy delight in eating multiple servings of healthy food. When I visited the same location a few months later, that little boy looked and acted like a 3-year-old. The sores were healed or healing, and he had a light in his eyes that wasn’t there before. When I spoke to his mother, she sounded hopeful. She could see a future for her son that was better than before.