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Raising The Bright Child: A sound mind in a sound body

imageIt must be the first hope of parents: To raise a bright child, more than they wish for one to become rich and prosperous. When an infant arrives to us in this world, there is not much one can do about physical attributes, except perhaps hope that succeeding months would reveal a partiality to the positive side of inherited features.


Let him become tall; let her nose tilt up a little.


Let the child exhibit more of the mother’s virtues rather than mine, the husband may say under his breath. Let the child display the father’s strength, the wife may pray. Both may also light candles to seek good fortune for the child as well as each succeeding one.


Above all, loving parents will assure one another, their hope is strongest that the child would grow up to be healthy and smart. If these attributes are present, then their child should have an easier road ahead.


For the upper-income family, the ideal is that the new generation does not fritter away the gains made by the present, that the hard-won capital – possessions and privileges – at least be preserved, if not increased and expanded. For underprivileged folks, the only way out of misfortune is by having the next generation derive the benefits of education. Only by being better trained can their children lift themselves up from the seeming morass that entraps the marginalized.


Whichever socio-economic extreme parents may represent, the common yearning for their children is that they gain a good chance to lead a comfortable life, or one that will be more beneficial than the one they had been born to.


Life is sometimes viewed as a process that entails survival of the fittest, for which improvement of the species is key. The succeeding generation should always do better, fare better, enjoy life better than the previous one. Thus the desideratum of mens sana, mens corpora: A sound mind in a sound body.


After all, the bright, healthy child would have the best chances for survival, for advancement, for the upliftment of his/her own environment. And, having as an adult gained a well-deserved level of comfort, then possibly striving to contribute positively to the local community as well as the community of nations.


In a young country with a yet struggling economy such as ours, the greater the imperative to ensure that each succeeding generation is welcomed into an environment that can bring out the best in each child, intellectually and physically.


"Every Filipino child deserves to be bright," argues the Bright Child program, a commendable initiative that has been mounted as a comprehensive national effort with international support.


The rationale for this program lists the challenges facing young children, aged from zero to six in particular, when their development enters the most critical phase. Primary are health and nutrition, psychosocial stimulation, and early education. Previous failure to address these requisites has led to a sorry state of child development across the country. Before the program started in the late 1990s, about 50 percent of infants and 26 percent of children aged one to six had iron deficiency anemia. There was also a severe and extensive problem of iodine deficiency, and significant levels of vitamin A deficiency and protein energy malnutrition. Such serious nutritional lack could damage not only the children’s health but their mental development as well. This is exacerbated by the fact that only one-third of three- to five-year-olds avail of day care and pre-school benefits, and there was a heavy dropout rate in Grades I, II and III.


The urgent need is clearly spelled out: An integrated delivery of services for children, with an emphasis on the convergence of such services at home, at the community center, and in school.


Bright Child is the one-brand package of Early Childhood Care and Development or ECCD efforts now being undertaken in many parts of the country. ECCD was first piloted in selected nutritionally depressed municipalities in Regions 6 (Western Visayas), 7 (Central Visayas) and 12 (Central Mindanao) under the Early Childhood Development (ECD) Project.


The ECD Project is conducted by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Health (DOH) and Department of Education (DepEd), which are now among the lead agencies orchestrating the national effort. For health and nutrition, the lead agencies are the Department of Health (DOH) and National Nutrition Council (NNC), which address the requisites of immunization, maternal health care, and proper nutrition by way of advocacy of nutrition and healthy habits.


For psychosocial care and development, the DSWD attends to home-based and center-based child-minding and day care services, supplemental feeding, effective parenting and nutrition education. The DepEd ensures ample preparation for school by integrating an eight-week early childhood curriculum in Grade I.


The ECD Project provides integrated services in health, nutrition, psychosocial development and early education for disadvantaged children zero to six years old, or that period in a child’s life that is the most crucial and which can prove most beneficial for his or her total development. These first six years are believed to be the best time to set the foundation to ensure that the child grows up to be physically healthy, mentally alert, emotionally secure, socially competent and intellectually capable.


To promote the holistic development of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged Filipino children, the ECD Project establishes effective partnership between the national government and local government units (LGUs) in providing ECD services. The critical role of LGUs in allocating resources for development programs cannot be over-emphasized.


The target beneficiaries are the in-need and at-risk children in 132 municipalities and cities in Region 6, covering the provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo, Guimaras, and Negros Occidental; Region 7, involving Cebu, Negros Oriental, Bohol and Siquijor; and Region 12, consisting of North Cotabato, Lanao, Sultan Kudarat and Iligan City.


Under the lead government agencies are implementing partners, which include the LGUs (barangay, city/municipal and provincial officials), parents, families, communities and non-government organizations (NGOs). Funding agencies, like the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, support the effort.


On July 24, 2000, Republic Act No. 8980, or The Early Childhood Care and Development Act, was promulgated to initiate the conduct of ensuring better development of the next generation of Filipinos. Defined in brief as "An act promulgating a comprehensive policy and a national system for early childhood care and development (ECCD), providing funds therefore and for other purposes," RA 8980 set the stage for the nationwide promotion and implementation of ECCD.


The initial implementation of the law on early child care and development took off among and across the range of relevant national and local agencies as well as target areas.


To effectively institutionalize and sustain the gains of the ECD Project, the Council for the Welfare of Children (CWC) was designated as the National ECCD Coordinating Council as of the end of 2003 to fast-track the training of LGUs in organizing and mobilizing activities, to accelerate negotiations with manufacturers of food and health supplies to fortify their products, and to accelerate activities for the attainment of the universal salt iodization (USI) ideal, as had been achieved with positive results in Region 6.


Then DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman, who served as co-chairperson of the ECD Project Steering Committee in happier times, enthused in an expression of gratitude to the involved parties:


"I would like to commend everyone involved in the project – the implementing agencies, local governments, service providers, and parents – for effectively working together to achieve our goals for our children. The satisfactory ratings the project received from the World Bank in 2002 proves that the commitment of all our partners never waned despite all the challenges encountered in the previous years."


"Sagot natin ang Batang Pilipino. Sama-sama nating panindigan ito." Thus went the rallying cry for the initial phases of the ECD Project. In translation, it read: "Our collective responsibility is to the Filipino child. Let’s stand by it."


Last year, on Feb. 23, 2004, Executive Order No. 286 was signed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo "directing national government agencies and other concerned agencies to actively support and implement programs on the ‘Bright Child.’"


It was seen to follow up effectively on RA 8980, which states that "it is the policy of the State to promote the rights of the child to survival, development, participation and special protection with full recognition of the nature of childhood and its special needs."


The Executive Order provided that: "The Council for the Welfare of Children/National Early Childhood Care and Development Coordinating Council (NECCDCC) through its Co-chairpersons, the Secretaries of the Departments of Health, Social Welfare and Development, Education, and the Interior and Local Government shall spearhead the development, promotion and delivery of the one-brand package of programs and interventions at national, regional, local levels under the Bright Child, especially in depressed municipalities."


It directed the pursuit of an "integrated approach through convergence of services at home, at the community centers and in schools," with such services consisting of the following, among others: Pre- and post-natal care, promotion of breastfeeding, immunization, growth monitoring and promotion, nutrition education, micronutrient supplementation, complementary feeding/food assistance, home and community food production, home and center-based day care, early education, psychosocial care and development, parent education, and healthy lifestyle.


EO 286 also stressed: "Non-government organizations, civil society groups, academe, business, the private sector and international agencies are also encouraged to support the Bright Child through systems development, advocacy, and promotion and networking."


Indeed, the stakeholders in this campaign ought to include everyone, for we are all parents in this laudable effort, aware as we must be of the essential need to foster a more ideal environment for children.


The Bright Child campaign reminds us of the Rights of the Child — "Every child deserves to: Be born well; Have a name and a nationality; Be free; Have a family; Have a good education; Have enough food, healthy and active body; Be given opportunity for play and leisure; Be given protection against abuse, danger and violence; Live in a peaceful community; Be assisted and defended by the government; Be able to express their own views."


More succinctly, the program’s core message says it all: "Every Filipino child deserves to be a Bright Child."

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