Meet the (parent) volunteers
The term volunteer brings to mind a certain level of conscientiousness: helping without expecting anything in return, giving time, effort and talent to do something willingly. In most cases, individuals who volunteer are students, corporate employees, or retirees. At Ateneo de Manila University’s Blueplate for Better Learning feeding program, many volunteers do not fit the profile- they are not students, corporate employees, nor retirees. Yet, they are motivated by a wider purpose. Meet the parent volunteers -- those whose children are beneficiaries of the feeding program.
Roberto Estrella has 3 children studying at Holy Spirit Elementary School in Quezon City. His children are enrolled in the feeding program. When the Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED)—which manages the feeding program —called for volunteers, he willingly signed up.
“Minsan wala din naman akong ginagawa. Sa isip ko masaya din naman. Nakikita ko pa yung mga alaga ko sa school (There are times when I have nothing to do. I also thought that it could be fun and I get to see my children while they’re in school),” he said.
Kuya Robert (as he is fondly called by other volunteers) has been helping in the kitchen for 3 years now. He admitted that in his first year, he grappled with how the system works, from the food preparation to interacting with fellow parents. Over time, they not only able to ramp up their kitchen skills but also build camaraderie among parent volunteers.
“Nagpupunta kami sa mga bahay tapos kumakain kami. Kapag wala kaming pera, nagkikita pa din kami at nagkwekwentuhan.Masaya na kami. Yun na yung pinakabonding naming parent volunteers (We go to each other’s houses and eat. We still meet even when we do not have money. We just talk and we’re happy. That is how we bond as parent volunteers),” he said.
With irregular work hours as an on-call contractor, Kuya Robert does not get to be in the kitchen every day so he makes sure to enjoy the time he spends with fellow volunteers. “Enjoy lang kami sa pagprepare ng food, pagluto hanggang sa dumating yung mga bata. Minsan, kabiruan na din naming yung mga bata. Nawawala na yung pagod na nararamdaman namin(We just enjoy it- from food preparation to cooking and when the children arrive. We have also built a friendship with the children. Our hard work pays off).”
Another volunteer who has found a second family in the Blueplate for Better Learning feeding program is Lelia Yangco.
Nanay Yangco sets her alarm for 3 am every day. At 5 am, she brings her eldest grandchild to Manuel Luis Quezon Elementary School in Quezon City. As her grandchild proceeds to her classroom, Nanay Yangco heads to the Blueplate for Better Learning kitchen inside the school.
“Magluluto ako tapos tutulong. Uuwi ako sa bahay ng 9:30 [am] para kunin yung 2 apo ko na Grade 5 at ihahatid dito para sa klase nila. Tapos, buong araw andito na ako ulit sa kitchen (I start cooking and help in whatever preparation needs to be done. Then I go home again at 9:30 am to pick up my 2 other grandchildren to prepare them for their Grade 5 afternoon class. I stay in the kitchen for the rest of the day),” she said.
Nanay Yangco’s 3 grandchildren used to be enrolled at Blueplate for Better Learning feeding program.. “Dati nung maliliit sila mahina sila kumain at ayaw tumikim ng gulay, Gusto nila itlog at hotdog lang. Dito sila nasanay kumain ng gulay (They used to eat poorly and did not like vegetables, only eggs and hotdogs. They learned to eat vegetables when they were enrolled in the feeding program),” she said.
Started in 2009, Blueplate for Better Learning feeding program aims to provide daily lunch meals for 130 days to student beneficiaries classified as “wasted.” In medical parlance, wasted refers to those whose weight-for-height is less than minus 2 from the average. In short, people who are too thin for their height. Through Blueplate for Better Learning feeding program’s focus on nutrition, Nanay Yangco learned to prepare healthy meals for her grandchildren.
“Pinipino ko yung repolyo tapos gagawin kong okoy. Gusto ng mga bata yun (I chop the cabbage finely then put them in shrimp fritters. The children love it),” she said.
While her eldest grandchild is graduating from elementary school this year, Nanay Yongco does not see herself leaving the kitchen soon. ACED, she said, has been instrumental in helping children— her own grandchildren included— become healthier.
“Six years na ako dito. Kahit graduate na yung apo ko, andito pa din ako. Hanggang kaya ko pa at hanggang andito pa yung feeding program at yung ACED, dito pa din ako (I’ve been here for 6 years. Even when my grandchildren have already graduated, I will still be here. As long as I can still do things and the feeding program and ACED exist, I will be here),” she said
During the ACED Thanksgiving event held last March 21, 2017 at the Ateneo de Manila University, Kuya Robert and Nanay Yongco were among the parent volunteers honored. Kuya Robert received the Gawad Fr. Bienvenido F. Nebres, SJ Huwarang Volunteer award while Nanay Yongco was honored with the Gawad Atty. Jaime G. Hofileña Natatanging Volunteer award.