At 49, she’s a mother to hundreds of children. She knows all of them by heart.
Marites Marceli’s hands were wet with foam when she reached the barangay health center. She smelled of detergent although her face was dripping with sweat. She was doing her laundry at home, but duty called.
“The doctor had us called,” Marites in Filipino. “Again, I won’t be able to wash my laundry,” she added, bursting into laughter mid-sentence.
Today Marites has to measure the height and weight of dozens of babies. She’s on a mission to identify the malnourished ones.
Her mission, however, doesn’t end there. She would watch over these babies until they fully recover.
Marites is among the 13 Barangay Health Workers (BHW) in Barangay North Boulevard Bay North in Navotas City.
BHWs are working around the clock to keep all children in their barangay healthy.
On most days, Marites hops from one house to another, rain or shine.
Due to lack of proper drainage and waste management systems, Marites wades through flood to get to certain houses.
During house visits, Marites educates parents on proper nutrition, hygiene, childcare, family planning and breastfeeding.
Even the simplest of Marites’ lessons can already save lives. Before Marites came along, many children suffered from diarrhea because their parents used dirty water. Now parents know the importance of boiling water, as well as the links between cleanliness and health.
Whenever a child is sick or is at risk of falling ill, Marites urges parents to avail of the barangay’s health services. If parents cannot go to the health center themselves, Marites brings the services to them.
Marites has been a BHW for 8 years, however, her knowledge on child malnutrition only sharpened earlier this year after Save the Children trained BHWs in the area.
“We’re happy that Save the Children is working with us,” Marites said, “We learned a lot together.”
In fact, Marites and her fellow BHWs identified and treated 117 moderately malnourished babies through Save the Children’s malnutrition treatment program called Community-based Management of Acute Malnutrition.
All babies are now healthy, but Marites and her team are still continuously monitoring them and counselling their parents.
“Save the Children taught us how to better communicate, educate, and connect with parents,” Marites shared, “We’re thankful.”
After training with Save the Children, Marites is now spreading the life-changing lessons she has learned so that more local health workers can deliver life-saving health services in their respective communities.
Aside from the hundreds of children she cares for, Marites has 8 kids of her own.
She has been raising them alone after her husband passed away. Although stripped of cash at times, Marites finds ways to ensure that her children eat right.
BHWs only get a monthly allowance of around P2,000, plus hazard pays and training. To survive, Marites cleans mussels in the nearby fish market. She also sometimes works as a vendor.
There are proposals to improve BHW benefits, however, these bills are still pending in Congress. Until then, BHWs like Marites continue to work tirelessly for little in return.
“I’m doing this for our community. If we don’t do this, children’s health will decline,” Marites explained. “It’s difficult, but fulfilling since I know I’m serving others. I don’t feel tired when I see parents and children smile and say salamat po (thank you).”
Marites hopes to inspire others, wishing that more barangays will prioritize children’s health. With your support, we can reach and train more health workers and parents like Marites.
Together, we can save more lives.
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