Jojo and Jimmy showed me what was inside their lunchboxes – rice and dried fish. The fish, scaly and no more than three inches long, was half buried in rice that had taken on a grayish color after being soaked in ginamos (fish sauce made from anchovy fry) back home. That had always been their baon every day since they started school three years ago.

The two were hanging out outside a window of a classroom where their friends had their fingers pricked for blood typing. The two grade three pupils laughed at classmates who grew white in the face at the sight of a needle; but they would run every time doctors invited them in. “We’re not sick,” they said.


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and Jimmy, both 9, may look healthy enough to make the mountainous trek between home and school, but they are actually two of the malnourished children of Mangabon Elementary School in Sitio Mangabon, Barangay Tagbao, Cebu City. They were in school last Sunday because their teachers had told them a medical team was to visit to make sure they are fit for class.

Months before last weekend’s two-day health care mission, their teachers went to the Dolores Aboitiz Children’s Fund (DACF) with a long list of problems. Topping the list are hunger and malnutrition. The school’s officials said more than half of the students are too hungry and malnourished to absorb their lessons.

Living kilometers away from the school, the children had to wake up before sunrise to make it to class on time. They often leave home without breakfast. This they don’t mind, because on the way to school, they eat half of their baon and keep the other half for lunch. By mid afternoon, they will have grown so hungry that all they do when asked to recite is give their teachers a blank stare, the teachers said.

Other problems in the school aggravate the situation. Mangabon Elementary School is one school in the “highly-urbanized” Cebu City that has no electricity yet. Lack of electricity renders TV sets and other modern educational equipment useless in Mangabon. Many students have yet to hear how electricity sounds in loudspeakers. And forget about computers there.

Mangabon (from the Cebuano “gabon,” meaning fog) gets so dark when

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fog attacks that students find it impossible to read anything on the blackboard. Teachers and students had to wait precious minutes for the sky to clear before resuming their lessons.

The teachers and the parents said they have already informed the barangay and city officials of the problem and have been following up their request for electricity to reach the area; but there has been no response yet.

The lack of government attention to the problems of Mangabon might be due to the school’s location. Sitting atop a mountain and isolated from the rest of the barangay, Mangabon is more a sitio in Balamban than a part of Cebu City. Majority of the 300 students there comes from Balamban. The safest and fastest way for visitors to get there is through the mountains of Balamban. The nearest electric post belongs to Balamban. Desperate, the teachers are actually thinking of approaching Balamban town officials for the solution to their problems.

Last weekend’s health care project of DACF; Kapwa Ko, Mahal Ko; GMA 7; and a local nongovernment organization should not be taken to mean all is now well in Mangabon. More than anything else, it should put the City Government to shame for the conditions that make medical missions happen there in the first place.

( opinion, july 29