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This new Tondo hub aims to fight food waste, hunger and food insecurity

Set to open in August, the Better World Community center will combat hunger among the urban poor.

“Hindi sapat,” says Elenita Reyes, chairperson of Barangay 105 in Tondo, Manila. “Ang bata, mula palang sa kanyang sinapupunan, doon na nagmumula ang kanyang pagiging malnourished.” Reyes sees the hardships in Barangay 105 everyday. Even as feeding programs come almost every week, there’s still more work that needs to be done. “Kailangan ang isang bata, mula sa pagsilang niya, nabibigyan sila ng saktong pagkain.”

According to the 2018 World Hunger Report, around 14.2 million Filipinos are malnourished and a third of the country’s population, almost 13.3 million, are considered food-insecure. The National Capital Region ranks second in the country as the area most food-insecure, second only to ARMM.

The statistics aren’t that hard to imagine as you meet the people of Aromaland in Tondo. In a community mostly known for its mountains of waste, resources are scarce and families struggle for basic needs. Conversations with mothers from the community center around the struggles families face to feed their children on a daily basis. Aida Alcazar, a resident of Aromaland says that their concerns for their children go beyond more than just a lack of food but also the importance of a stable livelihood. “Maraming kulang ang mga kabataan,” Aida says. “Lalo na sa hanapbuhay at pagkain.” It’s a situation they were born into as most of their parents, as Aida reveals, have no regular source of income and often just scavenge in nearby trash heaps. “Ang ibang mga magulang, namamasura lang,” says Aida. “Yung iba, nagtratrabaho sa basura, yung naghahakot.” It’s a life that tries to address short-term problems that often pile up in the long-term and could arguably do more harm than good for the health and welfare of the children.

“Ang mga bata, masuwerte makakain ng tatlong beses sa isang araw” say Aida, “at nakakasapat lang yung talagang kaunti lang yung anak.” But the reality of communities like Aromaland is that most parents have several children that depend on them but are often left wanting.

Another resident and mother, Michelle Castillo, says they often don’t get to eat lunch due to a lack of funds, “Minsan talaga kapos kami. Minsan, hindi talaga kami nakakakain sa tanghalian.”

The problems go beyond malnutrition. Without proper food and medicine, the health of grown-ups and children alike are often at risk especially in a community like Aromaland where trash covers virtually every single square foot of space. Francisco S. Polison, a counselor and the chairperson of health and sanitation of Barangay 105 details the everyday risks. “Problema talaga rito, dahil yung uri ng hanapbuhay. Nakapaligid sa kanila mga basura, diyan sila kumakain.” Often times where they work, live, and eat is in the midst of trash and so, issues of sanitation and decent food come up. According to Francisco, beyond medicine and doctors on the ground, what’s most needed is a steady livelihood and a daily wage to help families like the Alcazars rise from their current situation. For him, the children won’t be at risk if their parents had better or decent work. If this is the only kind of life they know, he says, then they’ll always come back to this situation and nothing will change.

It can’t be said enough how big an issue such as food-insecurity is and that the struggles of places like Aromaland need as much help as possible. As Jomar Fleras, the Executive Director of Rise Against Hunger-Philippines says “We need everybody to get involved. Fighting hunger requires the effort of everyone. It’s about building a partnership with different players. It’s creating impact on the ground among families who are food insecure.”

Over the last four years, Rise Against Hunger-Philippines has prepared and packaged almost four million meals and feeding about ten thousand children everyday. They work in communities all over the country and also give aid during tragedies such as Yolanda. This year, Rise Against Hunger is one of the partners of San Miguel Foundation in the company’s efforts to help the residents of Tondo. The goal is to have a community center that will not only serve as a hub for feeding programs but also help the residents in creating a more sustainable and nourished households.

The hope is that through our Better World Community, we will better learn how to bring about lasting change among the poor. We need to learn how to create a more supportive ecosystem that can lift more families out of poverty. Ferdinand K. Constantino, Chairman, San Miguel Foundation

Located roughly 500 meters from Aromaland in Barangay 101, the new San Miguel Foundation Better World Community center aims to “redress and address” the problems of hunger and growing inequality that exists in so many urban areas. This former beer warehouse and distribution center will house ongoing projects that seek to do what it can to fight hunger and promote education. San Miguel Foundation’s partnership with Rise Against Hunger hopes to address both short and long term issues of food waste and food insecurity. “The hope is that through our Better World Community, we will better learn how to bring about lasting change among the poor,” says San Miguel Foundation Chairman, Ferdinand K. Constantino. “We need to learn how to create a more supportive ecosystem that can lift more families out of poverty.”

“Food banks and food rescue has always been an area of interest and [we] tried to work out something before on [our] own but there were too many obstacles,” says San Miguel Foundation executive director Kin Lichauco. “When we met Rise Against Hunger-Philippines, everything fell into place. They will do the heavy lifting, picking up the food and bringing it to communities, or schools. They also have a wider network than us—donors (they work with Conrad Hotel, Heinz, Del Monte, Del Monte, Century Tuna etc.) who can help scale our impact.”

As Rise Against Hunger - Philippines seeks more physical structures and centers to carry out its important life-saving work, the partnership with San Miguel Foundation’s Better World Community comes at the right time. But the partnership goes beyond that. “We’re happy to partner with them because their values match our own,” says Kin. “We see for ourselves a much bigger role in helping solve societal problems and we like that they know their communities, have an ear to the ground, and a good read of what needs doing.”

San Miguel’s Better World Community center aims to stop hunger in its tracks by helping the most vulnerable: children, the elderly, the disabled, and single mothers. More than just a handout system, what this center and its partners want is a bottom-up participatory involvement wherein the people of the communities themselves will help and work to ensure everyone gets their fair share from volunteering to cook, washing plates, or keeping the grounds clean. This structure of shared responsibility with the beneficiaries will show that all the effort can lead to a more united community that promotes stronger connections and a positive partnership between all involved.

Hunger and food-insecurity may seem too big a task to be resolved in our lifetime but hope is not lost, and the determination of organizations like Rise Against Hunger and San Miguel to reach those among society’s most disadvantaged will make a dent.

Even Jomar and Rise Against Hunger-Philippines recognize the immense responsibility of their mission. “It takes a village to feed a child,” says Jomar. “We can’t do it alone.” That’s why it’s so important that San Miguel Foundation is committed to work with organiszations that are leading the cause and co-creating an infrastructure that not only addresses the immediate needs of today but as well as those of tomorrow in the hope of building the world we want. “It’s a community,” says Jomar. “We have to build a better community for everybody.”

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