“My baby here, he took the place of his older sister,” Merli said in Filipino as she cradled her youngest son.
Not long ago, Merli lost her daughter Samantha to various illnesses. Throughout her short life, Baby Samantha never knew how it felt to be healthy. She suffered from spinal cord complications and pneumonia, with her malnutrition only making it worse.
At age two, Baby Samantha passed away, leaving a hole in Merli’s heart. She vowed to never let her 9 other children suffer the way their sister did.
Baby Samantha is not alone. Many other Filipino kids don’t reach their 5th birthday due to malnutrition. In the Philippines, 45% of all child deaths are linked with malnutrition.
Merli named his youngest son Charlmanta, in honor of Baby Samantha. These days, the 33-year-old mother makes sure that her kids are eating right, but doing so is not always easy.
At times, Merli fears that Baby Charlmanta might end up just like his sister.
Merli’s family lives in a small home in Barangay Bagumbayan South in Navotas City.
To survive, Merli washes other people’s clothes in exchange of a few hundred pesos. Meanwhile, her husband sidelines as a boatman and pedicab (rickshaw) driver. Since the couple does not own these vehicles, a portion of their combined earnings goes to these vehicles’ rental fees.
This leaves Merli with little to spend on food and education, among other essentials.
Only three of her children – ages 16, 13, and 11 – are currently in school “We can’t afford to send all our kids to school yet,” she explained. The rest of the brood will have to wait.
Hopefully, Merli’s children wouldn’t fail in class. In the Philippines, around 48,000 students repeat a grade level due to undernutrition. Learning on an empty stomach is very difficult. Since undernourished children often sick, they often miss class. At worst, they drop out.
In total, grade repetitions due to undernutrition is costing the Philippines P1.23 billion every year.
“I cook rice twice a day. Sometimes I make porridge. Sometimes I buy cooked fish, because that’s what our budget can cover,” Merli said.
Merli was also unable to breastfeed all her children; Baby Charlmanta, for example, was only breastfed for two months.
Merli’s narrative is a common one. It’s not only observed among Metro Manila’s urban poor communities, but across the Philippines.
As a result of poor nutrition, 33.4% of Filipino children are stunted or too short for their age. Meanwhile, 21.5% of Filipino children are underweight.
Compared to other Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia, the Philippines is faring poorly in its fight against child malnutrition, according to the 2016 Global Nutrition Report.
Making it work
Feeding a big family can be tough, but Merli tries her best.
Despite her efforts, bad news still greeted her. The prematurely born Baby Charlmanta was diagnosed with severe acute malnutrition through Save the Children’s Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition (CMAM) program.
The program treats malnourished children like Baby Charlmanta. It also trains parents and local health workers on proper childcare.
Three weeks into treatment, the 8-month-old Baby Charlmanta started gaining weight and is now more active and playful.
Merli and her husband are now more conscious of buying fresh vegetables, preparing healthier meals, and keeping a cleaner environment.
“I’ll do everything so Baby Charlmanta won’t end up like his sister,” Merli said.
Thanks to kindhearted people like you, we’re continuously saving children across the Philippines. We hope to keep you as part of the Save the Children family!