From heartbreak to joy: Bella’s healthy transformation

PANGASINAN — Rodalyn is a mother to eight children, seven of them girls. Among them is Bella, currently two years old.

“When Bella was born, she was already thin. Although I admit she was an unplanned child, I am thankful that wasn’t born sickly,” Rodalyn, a housewife, says of Bella, her seventh child.

Like any mother, Rodalyn wants what’s best for her child. When Bella turned a year old, she noticed that Bella wasn’t a happy child — she didn’t play with her siblings often, would prefer just to sit to where she was sitting, and she looked too thin for her age.

“When I took her to the local doctor here in our barangay (village) last year, that’s where I found out that she was malnourished. I was heartbroken,” Rodalyn admits.

Bella is one of the many cases of malnutrition in the Philippines. Malnutrition, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), is identified as being either underweight or overweight. Further, as per the United Nations’ Children Fund (UNICEF), 95 children in the Philippines die due to malnutrition, with 27 out of 1,000 children do not get past their fifth birthday for this reason alone.

In Bella’s case, as per the doctor’s diagnosis according to Rodalyn, she was identified as having severe acute malnutrition. In WHO standards, severe acute malnutrition “is associated with medical complications due to metabolic disturbances and compromised immunity.”

In the community where Rodalyn and her family resides in Pangasinan, some 214 kilometers up the north from Manila, the local government unit has identified that 103 children, aged 24 to 59 months are underweight.

Upon learning this, Rodalyn sought to have her daughter join World Vision’s 90-day nutrition classes, dubbed as Positive Deviance/Hearth. Under the said program, children below five years of age, whose height and weight fall below the required standard for their age, are rehabilitated through a change in their eating and hygiene habits.

Bella underwent the 90-day nutrition classes in March 2023, to which Rodalyn said was an eye-opener for her.

“Through those classes, I learned that giving Bella the right food, such as feeding her vegetables and giving her milk, can go a long way in her nutrition,” Rodalyn proudly shares.

Now, months after Bella underwent the classes, her weight has significantly improved: the once gaunt-looking child weighing 4.9 kilos is now at 9.5 kilos. “Since she’s now healthy, Bella can now walk — even run — happily, and can play with her siblings,” Rodalyn adds.

‘A safer space’

Apart from the nutrition classes, Rodalyn said that World Vision was able to help her family in providing livelihood assistance — specifically a goat — and a communal toilet. Before, Rodalyn admits that her home didn’t have a bathroom of their own as her family could not afford to build one (her husband, Mario, earns a meager P400 or $7 from growing rice), and would even share with other family members, who live adjacent near their home.

Rodalyn’s case is not new. In fact, per data from UNICEF showed that as of 2020, there are 7 million Filipinos were still openly defecating or using unimproved toilets. Such dangers that can be caused from poor sanitation are diarrheal diseases or intestinal worm infections among children, and can even make cases of malnutrition worse.

“Through the communal bathroom, I am now confident that my children will be at less risk of diseases. This is also a safe space for my children, most of them are girls, in their hygienic needs,” Rodalyn confidently says.

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