By Jessica Asprer
“Healthy learners tend to learn better.”
That was a statement of Department of Education undersecretary Diosdado San Antonio, noting the increase in engagement among students served with hot meals in schools adopted by Joy Schools.
Joy Schools, Mondelez Philippines’ adopt-a-school program, recently celebrated its 10th year of making immediate and long-term impact on school children through feeding programs, nutrition education, teacher training, and parent participation.
Not only did the program’s activities drive attendance and active participation, but also contributed to better academic performance.
Following the improvement in nutrition, attendance had gone up to 93 percent partnered with a grade average of 82, according to communications manager Caitlin Punzalan.
The long-standing aim of Mondelez Philippines’ flagship community program is to give undernourished children in elementary schools a level playing field by targeting what is holding their potential back—the lack of basic nutrition.
“Step one has to do with balanced nutrition,” said Mondelez country director Ashish Pisharodi.
Holistic initiatives include a nine-month feeding program for 100 undernourished students per school, nutrition education, and active play programs led by volunteers.
Mondelez zeroes in on nutrition and food aid for underprivileged children. But this, Pisharodi said, was a means to an end.
To encourage parents to provide good nutrition at home, 400 parents were equipped with urban vegetable gardens for them to grow fresh food on their own.
Joy Schools has also focused its advocacy on protecting the environment by converting classrooms into vibrant and interactive spaces. Plastic packaging was turned into eco-bricks used in the slides, benches, and sheds of the plastic play areas.
The program made four recycled plastic play areas from 2019 to 2020.
No child left behind
Community feeding was discontinued because of quarantine restrictions.
But the team, Pisharodi said, found solutions to address hunger in the pandemic, “still holding the hands of our adopted children and making sure to walk hand in hand with them”.
The Joy Schools program, adapting to the present situation, not only echoed hope and a healthy lifestyle to their students but also to their respective families.
Complying with social distancing, weekly “veggie packs” were made available for pickup at the schools and distributed to 100 families of severely undernourished students.
With the ongoing pandemic and the risk of unemployment, families said the steady supply of food provided by the program was one of the things they were thankful for, according to Punzalan.
To reach key stakeholders and enable learning at home, 568 home learning kits, 150 laptops, and 81 Wi-Fi devices were donated to the adopted schools.
Nutrition at the heart of it
Joy Schools began in 2011 with a feeding program for its first adopted school, Sampaloc Site II Elementary School. Since then, they have had 19 adopted schools, three of which were added just last year.
“When Mondelez started helping us, the kids were given hope. Frequent absentees started having perfect attendance because they were excited to eat healthy food,” shared Jeannette De Jesus of Col. E. de Leon Elementary School in Parañaque.
“We are passionate about food,” Pisharodi said. “Our purpose, really, is to empower people to snack right.”
Working hand in hand with DepEd Division Offices and implementing partner Philippine Business for Social Progress, Mondelez is eager to share this program with other markets, said corporate and government affairs country manager Joseph Fabul.
In its 10 years, Joy Schools has reached 5,378 beneficiaries. Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Taiwan have also adopted the Joy Schools program.
Through Joy Schools, San Antonio said, “Bayanihan is alive for the sake of the children.” With Irah Marie Tan