One year after Haiyan, the children of Alang-Alang hope to feel like ‘normal’ kids again: smiling, carefree, unafraid. With Kusina ng Kalinga, we try to bring back the normalcy of their lives and the brightness of their futures.
Teacher, vegetarian na kami,” one kid told Ms. Eden.
The day’s lunch meal was miki con sayote – Shanghai noodles with chayotes in chicken soup. Everyday for the past three months, the kids of Alang-Alang Central School in Leyte get their daily helpings of rice, meat, and vegetables. Packed in colorful lunchboxes, their meals are delivered to their classrooms warm, appetizing, and prepared with love.
“Anong paborito niyong niluluto sa kusina?” I asked.
They each told me their favorite dish but it seems that the camote and tokwa (sweet potato and tofu) in cream of chicken is the runaway hit among them. As I walked through the school grounds during lunch break, I got a lot of “Hi, ate!” from random kids. I answer back with a wave or a high five. If not for the hammering noise from the construction nearby, the stack of debris on one side of the campus and tent classrooms on the other, I would have thought that nothing happened here. The kids were smiling, being their usual energetic selves — running about, their giggles and chuckles fill the air.
According to Teacher Eden Ramos, it took some time for things to regain this sort of normalcy. There was a time when half the kids weren’t coming to class. At the start of the school year, absenteeism was high.
“After the typhoon, marami na talagang hindi pumapasok kasi wala talagang hanapbuhay. Yun talaga na obserbahan namin. Hindi talaga sila pumapasok kasi anong kakainin nila pag pumapasok sila? Wala naman silang pagkain kasi wala namang hanapbuhay. Pumapasok lang sila paminsan-minsan — mga once a week, twice a week.” – Teacher Eden
Having two kids attending the school herself, she shares that it’s been a great help to her and other parents that they didn’t have to worry about what their children will eat for lunch. As families try to recover financially, their children’s meals in school give them some breathing room.
Since August, lunch for the entire school population of 1,600 kids is served by Kusina Ng Kalinga (Care Kitchen). Kusina ng Kalinga sits in one of the classrooms converted into a heavy duty kitchen. It starts bustling at 3am – preparing huge cauldrons for boiling rice; a lot of peeling, slicing, and dicing of vegetables; marinating the meat; scooping and packing food into these nice little lunchboxes. Everything has to be done like clockwork to make sure everything is prepared by lunchtime.
It may sound like an assembly line, but the reality is, this kusina is probably the warmest place in school – and it’s not because of all the food that’s being cooked. Kusina ng Kalinga’s warmth springs from the love poured in by the people doing the cooking. It is a labor of love from the volunteers and mothers who run it.
I met volunteers Anj, Jochz, Jack, Rizel, Ate Myra and Ate Angie – I call them the kitchen staples whose dedication provide the lifeline of the operations. I also had the privilege of meeting Nanay Nelita, Nanay Lenlen, and Ate Aisa. Their kids attend Alang-Alang Central school, and while they are only required to volunteer on specified schedules, they come to the kitchen almost everyday.
Nanay Nelita in particular has to walk an hour from her house to the school, along with her three kids. She helps more than the usual because the kitchen is important to her, and she wants it to continue. But I’m sensing that she’s enjoying it too.
“Naging kaibigan ko na din sila dito,” (They have already become my friends), she says.
A caring community is a natural outcome of people working together. Just as kids chatter in their classrooms, the nanays and volunteers do the same in this kitchen. They even broke into a song when one good 80’s power ballad was played on the radio. I wonder if they ever got reprimanded by the teacher next door for being a bit too noisy.
This bustling hub doesn’t go unnoticed by the kids. At any given time, kids loiter outside the kitchen, saying hi to their ates and kuyas, dropping by to give them a hug, or just being curious to see what’s cooking for lunch.
I was outside chatting with a few of them – Shaina, Jackie, May Joy, Bianca, and Nicole. About nothing in particular, just child stuff. Later on they called me and handed me a letter with stickers on it.
“Ate, pwede pakibigay kay Mommy Jochz?” (Ate, can you please hand this to Mommy Jochz?)
Jochz tells me she gets these love letters everyday. No need to ask her what inspires her to do this work.
“Ate, wag kayong aalis ha?” (Ate, please don’t leave.)
And just like that you realize how our presence means a lot to these kids. Earlier that day, the kids were in assembly for the Monday morning flag ceremony. They sang the national anthem with fervor, and recited the lines of Panunumpa sa watawat ng Pilipinas.
“Ako ay Pilipino,
Buong katapatang nanunumpa sa watawat ng Pilipinas,
At sa bansang kanyang sinasagisag,
Na may dangal, katarungan, at kalayaan,
Na pinakikilos ng sambayanang Maka-Diyos,
Maka-kalikasan, Maka-tao, at Makabansa.”
t’s been ages since I’ve been to one of these. I remember having to line up by height; the teacher’s command – arms forward, raise!; us perspiring and squinting under the sun. I remember worrying about kid stuff, but never about the future. Maybe because mine was never threatened by a catastrophe, or by poverty.
Looking at the kids, I wonder how they see theirs. I wish they see it bright. But if not, I wish they have hope.
More than the meals, if there’s anything that Kusina ng Kalinga aspires to give the children, it is this. As food fills their stomachs, their souls are fed with hope. In due time, they will be able to fully recover. The future remains bright for them.