The Barangay Nutrition Scholar (BNS): Keeping the Spirit of Volunteerism Alive at the Grassroots PDF Print E-mail
WP - Jan-Dec 2006
Written by Chona M. Fernandez, NAMD   

Volunteerism appears as a common by-word in local officials' meetings, small group discussions, students' assemblies, and simple exchanges among young professionals. What really is volunteerism? I stopped for a moment and reflected on its real meaning because I know I am actually doing "it". Each one of us, likewise, is engaged in volunteerism in different ways and forms. By definition, "volunteerism is the willingness of people to work on behalf of others without the expectation of pay or other tangible gain". Simply said, "it is offering oneself without payment in return".

Volunteerism is a value we uphold and should be proud of as Filipinos. The spirit of volunteerism is very much alive in the Barangay Nutrition Scholars (BNSs) who are considered the frontliners in delivering nutrition and health services in the barangays. They serve as key implementers in the advocacy for community development projects. Mandated with the proclamation of Presidential Decree 1569 of 1978, the BNS is a barangay-based volunteer worker who delivers basic nutrition and related health services, and links communities with nutrition and related service providers. The Philippine Nutrition Program served as impetus for the implementation of PD 1569. In 1977, the Philippine Nutrition Program was recognized locally and internationally as a unique and comprehensive program designed to meet the needs of the people by means of available resources. The barangay, as the basic political structure and the most versatile venue for popular participation, was chosen as the focus of the program. It was in this light that the Barangay Nutrition and Health Scholar (BNHS) was conceptualized and became popularly known as BNS at present. In July 1977, the BNHS Project was launched as a means of meeting manpower needs of the Philippine Nutrition Program.

The multi-sectoral and multilevel nature of BNS' tasks enrich the volunteer work they do in the community. The BNSs do regular weighing of preschool children as part of the Operation Timbang (OPT) and determine the nutritional status of these children based on a reference table. The OPT is part of the programs reported in the Barangay and Municipal Nutrition Action Plans. The BNSs also manage supplementary feeding of undernourished children and help out in the conduct of mothers' classes by assisting the trainers and the mother-learners. The BNSs conduct home visits and household surveys regarding births, disabled persons, older persons, newly built houses and transferees. They also perform various tasks in the barangay health center assisting the midwife.

The BNSs and other community volunteers also provide valuable help in the conduct of nutrition surveys and various research and development (R&D) projects of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology (FNRI-DOST). They are in charge of validating information of research participants and locating them for surveys or data gathering. The BNSs assist FNRI researchers to facilitate research operations on field.

Despite the BNSs numerous functions in the community, they occupy a volatile position in the barangay. As political appointees, any change in local leadership during election signals uncertainty for their renewal in service. Currently, there are 22,083 BNSs recognized by the National Nutrition Council in 954 municipalities covering a total of 19,032 barangays nationwide. This number of BNSs is few considering there are 48,000 barangays in the country.

Keeping the spirit of volunteerism alive in our community is a difficult task because of the ever- changing times and shift in values. The BNSs receive a small amount of incentive from the Internal Revenue Allotment (IRA) of the barangay and sometimes from the municipality and province. However, this often, is not enough to cover the costs of transportation and office supplies to produce reports for the nutrition plan. Despite a common and increasing concern about inadequate honoraria and benefits given to them, the BNSs continue to provide service to the people because of love for their work. The BNSs take pride in serving their barangays for decades and according to them, age is not a hindrance to such a noble task.

The local government units (LGUs) from the barangay to the provincial levels should ensure the welfare of the BNSs and all volunteer workers in the community. The LGUs should not resort to short-term measures to respond to their needs because of their outstanding role in providing community services.

During the 58th Annual Convention of the Philippine Association of Nutrition, Inc. (PAN) held in July 2005 in Cebu City, PAN underscored the overriding mission of the LGUs in addressing malnutrition by spearheading nutrition-related programs in support of the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN). According to Dr. Elias E. Escueta, PAN President, the "success of nutrition programs is identified by two factors: political commitment of local officials and community involvement and participation." According to the 'PAN Recommends 2005', "the LGUs are key to effective strategy to address the urgent call for action in nutritional improvement." The BNSs are part and parcel of this endeavor by helping in intensifying PPAN implementation and facilitating sustainability of barangay nutrition plans. The LGUs must strengthen the management capacity of the BNSs and look beyond volunteerism as mere service delivery without pay but professional work towards nutritional improvement.

We may not be aware of the increasing demand for volunteer work in the community to complement the services given by the government in improving the health and nutritional status of the people. However, we can always rekindle our innate nature of bayanihan and pakikipagkapwa-tao. Volunteering helps in building strong and cohesive communities.

 

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  Updated  November 2014
 
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