Pinky Concha Colmenares
In the eighties, the image of a malnourished child in Negros Occidental woke the nation to the problem of severe malnutrition in the country.
I think of that image today, as Nutrition Month comes to an end because I had covered many nutrition feeding programs in the hinterlands of that province in the months following that photo that appeared in many foreign publications, one of them Time magazine.
It’s an image that has been reversed by the story of a tiny pack of nutritious meal that is produced in Negros Occidental and has fed hundreds of thousands of children, not only the malnourished around the country, but also those in evacuation centers in disaster areas. During the war in Marawi City in 2017, 521,299 Mingo packs were fed to the hungry children in the evacuation centers. More recently, Mingo meals were fed to children evacuated due to the eruption of Taal Volcano.
Manufactured by the Negrense Volunteers for Change (NVC), the basic ingredients of Mingo are rice, mongo (mung beans), malunggay (moringa). Nutrition per serving gives 73 calories energy, 16 grams carbohydrates, one gram protein, and Vitamins A, C, B1, B6, potassium, iron, calcium, and zinc. The pack has a one-year shelf life.
Although it is usually given as a porridge mixed with water, many children in health centers and evacuation facilities consume them in powder form because of the good taste of the different flavors —natural, chocolate, squash, and ube.
More than a hundred children had their first taste of Mingo meals at the kickoff of a feeding program.
The popular taste has led to different concoctions of Mingo like ice cream, (which I like), and cookies. Who knows, there must be Mingo-flavored cupcakes somewhere by now.
The story of this small pack of nutrition is amazing. It started in 2010 when NVC President Millie L. Kilayko,who is a very good friend (she was my classmate for many years in St. Scholastica’s and then in La Salle), was introduced to the formula for complementary food developed by the Food Nutrition and Research Institute (FNRI) of Department of Science and Technology (DOST). Her team of volunteers tweaked the basic formula to include ingredients grown by local farmers.
A child carries a package with a month's supply of Mingo meals.
The making of the first Mingo packs started in NVC’s startup kitchen where only a few hundred packs were produced a day. Today, the food packs are made from a set of machines acquired in 2011 which manufacture over a million packs monthly.
The success of the Mingo meal now supports contract farmers who plant munggo and malunggay for the product.
The Mingo meals were made primarily to feed malnourished children in the poorest communities of Negros Occidental where the malnutrition problem is still high. That is under NVC’s nutrition program which targets the unserved sector of children aged six to 60 months. Most nutrition programs serve malnourished children five years and older.
The Mingo packs have been used in many nutrition programs for children in many parts of the country conducted by government agencies and private sector groups. The more recent were conducted by the Negros Occidental provincial government and by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
NVC spares no effort in getting Mingo to its destination - many times crossing rivers and climbing hills to reach the children in need.
“In 2020, the Provincial Government of Negros Occidental sponsored a six-month Mingo nutrition program for 2,000 underweight or malnourished children in 10 areas with the highest degrees of malnutrition. As of March 2021, 677 have graduated to normal after three months of taking Mingo daily. All areas with Mingo have shown greater improvement than the control group that isn′t on Mingo,” NVC records state.
The ADB-funded program was three years ago when NVC, with the AGAPP Foundation, implemented a 200-day feeding program using Mingo Meals in 45 preschools around Negros Island and Bicol. The feeding program was simultaneously launched with 3,852 children taking part.Almost 7,300 students benefited from Mingo throughout the project.
Today, there are more than a dozen NGOs and government agencies that have fed malnourished children with Mingo meals. NVC’s counter in its website states 18,681,855 Mingo packs were distributed and 42,958 children served on the six-month nutrition protocol as of June 30,2021.
But the story of Mingo is more endearing because it is replayed by private citizens. Many adults and children have opted to celebrate their birthdays by booking Mingo packs for malnourished children enrolled in NVC’s nutrition program (email email@example.com).
The NVC Food Bus, which has a kitchen, also conducts feeding programs to where it is needed. Some private citizens have used the bus to distribute the Mingo meals as their way to celebrate a special occasion.
Mingo meals are distributed through NVC’s nutrition program in the barangays in many towns and cities in Negros Occidental and Panay Island since 2011, and has been served in 52 provinces across the country, both through the program or for emergency relief. NVC has even served Mingo in areas that can only be reached by skilled motorcycle drivers and domesticated horses.
From its home in Bacolod City, that small Mingo meal pack has gone a long way around the country and has done its share in helping solve the hunger and malnutrition problem.