Jimmy Carter, an American philanthropist and the 39th US President, once said “War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other’s children."
Sadly, when war happens, it is the children who are left most vulnerable and hungry. The World Bank's latest report on Undernutrition in the Philippines emphasized that malnutrition is a serious threat to our Filipino children when left unaddressed over the years. Rates of stunting are worse in rural areas. Gradual and modest improvements in the nutritional status of Filipino children may have been achieved through school-based feeding programs.
However, this was been disrupted by the economic effects of the covid pandemic. So, if malnutrition rates continue to rise, child morbidity and mortality follow. If left unresolved, children experiencing hunger will suffer from poor school performance and low productivity.
Such is the fear for the poor children in Patikul, Sulu where numerous conflicts and encounters between the Philippine military known as Armed Forces of the Philippines or AFP and locals have ever since erupted.
Establishing Kusina ng Kalinga in Patikul Sulu is a journey of caring and sharing anchored on mutual trust and confidence to bring hope and lasting peace.
How the sharing and caring community started in Sulu
The discussion on establishing Gawad Kalinga presence in Sulu started as a conversation between now Retired General Boing Ecarma, who was the former head of the Marine Brigade based in Patikul and Jose Mari Oquinena when they became classmates in the Bridging Leadership Program of the Asian Institute of Management-Center for Bridging Societal Divides. Both Gen. Boing and Jose Mari intended to help the locals heal from their deep-seated wounds caused by conflict between them and the military. The hardest battles in Sulu were fought in Patikul and establishing a GK village there will help the locals rebuild their lost homes and more importantly, promote healing and reconciliation.
Together with Gen Boing, Jainab Abdulmajid, GK Mission Worker in Sulu laid the groundwork in establishing GK’s presence. When the general was transferred to another post outside of Sulu, Jainab took on all the necessary work like community organizing, the supervision of the construction, linkages to partners, managing the volunteers and project/ program implementation to keep the peace initiative.
Despite the general’s transfer, he continued to remotely oversee the management of Gawad Kalinga in Sulu through Jainab Abdulmajid and the Marines continue to provide manpower assistance in the construction and even extended their civil military operations in the GK community. They help build the houses, provided medicine during medical outreach, school supplies, slippers and sports facilities. They even established a mini park now called Col. Dolojan's park (named after deceased colonel). When the Marines left, the Philippine Army took over. They too provided the same amount of assistance in various forms.
Jainab also engaged the PNP particularly the PNP Aviation team and Special Action Forces. They provide the "warm bodies" because it is important for them to be physically present in the community to sustain the trust and confidence that was established years back. The US Forces also built homes in GK Patikul and in Panamao.
Jainab shared “By doing this, I am transforming mental models of both sides- the men in uniform are not enemies and the people in the community are not enemies (though almost all of them have relatives in the Abu Sayyaf Group.”
Why is Kusina ng Kalinga Kitchen being established in Patikul, Sulu?
The collective caring & sharing is the sustainable solution to end hunger among children even in Patikul, Sulu. The community kitchen is GK’s mechanism to work together – and an opportunity to journey with the Kapitbahayans in GK Parsugpatan Village as they build their paths out of poverty, addressing hunger. Fighting the prevalence of malnutrition among children in Sulu is a type of battle that is best fought together. This is not only addressing hunger and malnutrition but also fighting for peace in the beautiful island of Sulu.
What did the initiative hope to achieve?
In Sulu, GK endeavors to fight malnutrition head on through Kusina ng Kalinga (Care Kitchen) where 500 children, mostly stunted and wasted based on RHU Patikul Data from Patikul’s 4 barangays (Liang, Kaunayan, Bakung, Igasan, Kadday Mampallam) will be fed with one nutritious meal for one hundred twenty days to be prepared by volunteer mothers in true Bayanihan spirit. GK USA was able to secure funding from David & Kathy Curry to support the KNK Patikul, Sulu.
KNK is intended to be a multi-sectoral solution to the complex problem of health and malnutrition.Even before the kitchen was operational, weekends were spent in meetings with the various stakeholders necessary to make the effort sustainable. Members of the academe (Notre Dame of Jolo Colleges), security sector (PNP SAF and Special Forces), health sector (RHU Patikul), volunteers (mothers from 5 communities in Patikul), local leaders (brgy captains), and Gawad Kalinga Sulu are all-onboard, either providing manpower (in building and operating the kitchen) and resources like ingredients and rice.
Beyond feeding empty stomach with nutrients that the body needs. KNK nourishes the people’s minds and souls. It puts to rest their fears. It restores beliefs and nurtures relationships.
The children in Patikul, Sulu grew up having men in uniform around and they are not afraid of them. Jainab shared that she and the PNP Region IX Regional Intelligence Group supports a scholar, who is a son of an ASG member now detained at Bicutan. The scholar’s male siblings, now deceased were Abu Sayaf Group members. She narrates that when they were still alive, they were her protectors in Sulu so that can uninterruptedly pursue her mission work for Gawad Kalinga.
Jainab envisions that through KNK new champions will be developed. Volunteer teams led by Suraima Pitoh and husband, El EL J Aradji and all Kapitbahayan of GK Parsugpatan and their Barangay Local Government units in Liang, Igasan, Sanda and Patikul Higad will eventually see the value of providing one nutritious meal a day for the identified kids in their respective barangays. GK Parsugpatan Village Kapitbahayan renovated the community kitchen, which was first utilized by CPG-GK feeding program that lasted for 5 months prior to the opening of the Kusina ng Kalinga kitchen in Patikul, Sulu.
Protracted conflict has to end not just through combat operations. We ensure that parallel efforts should be in place to achieve better health systems. And feeding malnourished children with hot meals prepared by volunteer mothers is key initiative because healthy children make healthy community.
Jainab shared, “In Sha Allah, we continue to build a “community” and see the realization of our vision that when we shall be asked by the Creator one day, we shall say- We did our best to serve you.”