News Release

Church Hosts Interfaith Women's Forum with Sister Sharon Eubank and Sister Bonnie H. Cordon

"Potential is in every single life, and if you can't protect that life then the potential is lost," said Sister Sharon Eubanks, the first counselor of the Relief Society General Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, in front of 31 women leaders and influencers during the Interfaith Women's Luncheon held on 18 September 2018. 

Poverty, malnutrition, conflicts and disrupted family relationships affect the social, emotional, mental, and physical development of children. For this reason, influential women from the interfaith community, academe, government, and the media gathered together to share insights for women, children, and the family.

Atty. Jo Imbong, Executive Secretary of the Legal Office of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, lead the group discussions, which tackled three important topics. These were Health and Nutritional Issues of Children in the Philippines, Women:  The Heart of the Family - Issues and Concerns, and Family Education in Peace and Religious Freedom

Women leaders also present in the interfaith were Ms. Lourdes B. Caminade, Feed the Children Philippines; Director Rosalie D. Dagulo, Community Programs and Services Bureau of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD); Ms. Jovita B. Raval, National Nutrition Council; Dr. Potre Diampuan, Alliance for Halal Integrity in the Philippines and United Religions Initiative; Ms. Sally Bongalonta, Philippines Mental Health Association; Madam Tandis Jafarimalak, Embassy of Iran; Miss Mary Imbong, World Youth Alliance; Dr. Genevieve Balance-Kupang, St. Paul College Pasig and Peacemakers' Circle; Dr. Lilian Siason, University of Sto. Tomas Graduate School, Religions for Peace Philippines, and Asian Women of Faith Network; Dr. Shakuntala Vaswani, Peacemakers' Circle; Ms. Mary Grace Flores, DSWD; and Ms. Mary Grace Blando, DSWD. Women leaders from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints included Sister Sharon Eubank; Sis Bonnie H. Cordon, Young Women General President;  Sister Cindy Schmutz; Sister Grace Teh; and Sister Anita Wakolo; Mary Ann Balen, LDS Family Services; Morena Baylon; and Veronica de Almeida.

Ms. Lyn Resurreccion and Ms. Stephani Tumampos of Business Mirror, who were also participants of the Interfaith Women's Luncheon, published an article about the event on Read the excerpts below: 

The high incidence of poverty in the Philippines causes many problems, with the children suffering the most. With 21.6 million Filipinos below the poverty line, malnourished children under five years old have high levels of stunting (33.4 percent) and wasting (7.1 percent). At the same time, children are also victims of armed conflicts.

A Women’s Luncheon held by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint (LDS) at a hotel in Quezon City last week discussed these issues and how the Philippine government agencies and nongovernment organizations are responding to them in order to improve the situation of children.

The forum’s special guests are Sister Sharon Eubank, the first counselor in the general presidency of the Relief Society, the LDS’s organization for its 6 million female members ages 18 and above, and Sister Bonnie Cordon, young women general president of LDS.

Health and nutrition

Lourdes B. Caminade of Feed the Children Philippines said they provide food and nutrition to children, and care to women in Angono, Rizal; Cebu; Bohol; Negros Island; and Zamboanga del Norte.

Mothers are trained to provide food to children in their first 1,000 days from birth. It should be noted that children who suffer from chronic malnutrition at this stage face irreversible stunting all their life.

Besides providing hot meals to children in schools, the organization also gives psychosocial and emotional development services to children in slum areas, pregnant teenagers, Grade 3pupils who engage in gangs and delinquents.

Feed the Children also helps disaster victims, such as those of Typhoon Ompong (international code name Mangkhut).

The Philippine Women’s University (PWU), Sally Bongalonta said, also provides psychosocial services, especially to children who suffer from depression.

“We support endeavors that concern family life…. The problems stem from troubled homes. Children need shoulders to cry on. The parents are not at home [working late or abroad] and the children are left alone,” Bongalonta said.

The World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific promotes “human dignity” as a foundation of human rights.

Mary Imbong, its executive director, said they formulated a Human Dignity Curriculum for K to 12 “to make the young people understand their worth.”

The curriculum, she said, teaches the youth to take care of their body—their right to have proper hygiene, food and shelter; freedom to think; and proper values.

“We hope to see the young people to have smart decision after college,” Imbong said.

At the Buddhist Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple, Luisa So said they “nurture talents” through education and promote vegetarianism, a “silent meal” that makes people “more calm.”

“We appreciate what we eat and we are thankful for people who prepare our food…. It is good for the health, and lessens carbon emission.”

Mary Grace Flores from the Supplementary Feeding Program at Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said nutrition activities are held among two  to four-year-old malnourished children in day-care centers all over the country.

Hot meals are given to children below the minimum required weight for 90 days to 120 days as provided for in the Supplementary Feeding Act. There are 1.7-million children beneficiaries nationwide for 2018.

Mary Grace Blando of DSWD’s Early Childhood Care and Development Program acknowledged that the children’s malnutrition problem also stems from “poor parenting.”

She recognized the importance of providing good health care and nutrition to children in their first 1,000 days for them to grow as normal healthy children.

Jovita B. Raval of the Department of Health’s National Nutrition Council disclosed that based on the Philippine Plan of Action for Nutrition (PPAN) 2017-2020 the agency addresses children’s nutrition, especially the high level of stunting (33.4 percent) and wasting (7.1 percent) of those under five years old.

Stunting is the impaired growth and development that children experience from poor nutrition, repeated infection and inadequate psychosocial stimulation, the World Health Organization said. Wasting is the condition where children are below the minimum weight requirement.

As with the DSWD, Raval said the agency focuses on the health and nutrition of children in their 1,000 days from conception.

The Council promotes breastfeeding and has created a parental module to guide parents in managing their children’s early years.

The local government units are helping address the situation.

Based on DOH PPAN 2017-22 Executive Summary dated July 31, 2017, due to hunger and food insecurity, 68.3 percent of Filipino households are not meeting their caloric requirements.

Family life and peace

Dr. Potre Diampuan, senior faith adviser of United Religions Initiative-Asia, said the Philippines is one of the big exporters of human resources, such as domestic helps, nurses and caregivers.

When the father leaves for a job abroad for the family’s upkeep, the mother is capable of dual roles of a father and mother in the family, she said.

However, since many mothers now work abroad and leave behind their children in the care of the father, changes in family relations occur. Problems among children crop up, such as juvenile delinquency.

“While there is economic gain [with the mother working abroad], poverty is not addressed. The economic gain [in the family] is not proportionate to social costs,” she noted.

Onthe Marawi siege last year, she shared how her very young granddaughter could distinguish different kinds of bullets through the firing sounds.

“I was shocked to learn how my six-year-old granddaughter could recognize these sounds at a very young age,” she said.

A Muslim, Diampuan said, “Until today we could not return to our places. We want to return to where we belong.”

Atty. Jo Imbong of the Legal Office of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, agreed with Diampuan, saying, “prosperity does not always work in the terms of the family.” Imbong stood as the forum’s moderator.

Dr. Lilian Sison, secretary-general of Religions for Peace Philippines (RFP), work in Mindanao among children displaced by armed conflicts conflicts, and among mothers and women.

RFP provides psychosocial service among women and children-protection projects among lumad including Manobos, and Muslims.

She said they found out that many children have no birth certificates. Parents have to go to lowlands to pay P400 for the certificates.

“With no birth certificates they  could not go to school, could not work. They have to borrow [other people’s] identities [birth certificates].” Through the group’s intercession, 2,500 children were registered and the P400 fee for birth certificates was waived.

She said recruitment of children in armed groups in Mindanao is rampant.

“We saw a lot of child soldiers in conflict areas,” she added.

According to Atty. Salma Pir Rasul, program director of Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, “We have to strengthen family ties because even in the areas where extremism is on the rise, studies have shown that strengthening the family is key to promoting peace.”

Agreeing to Diampuan’s report, she added that in places where tanks and guns are common,children could already identify the kinds of bullets and sound of gunshots and bombings.

“It is [the sound of gunshots] common to them already…. If we value peace, the military presence should be a concern. They [children] see soldiers, fighting jets flying over [as an everyday occurrence].”

Rasul expressed alarm that most of the rebels in the first two days in the months-long Marawi siege were around 14-year olds “who were carrying firearms heavier than their weight.”

“Where were their mothers? Where were their families?” she asked.

She said people join armed groups owing to poverty, for redress of grievances or lack of education.

Dr. Genevieve Balance-Kupang, over-all coordinator of the Special Interest Groups of the World Council for Curriculum and Instruction, shared that after several months of military conflict in Marawi last year to flash out the Muslim militants, concerns of children among Lumads, or indigenous people, have risen.

In her document “Bakwit Iskul [Evacuation Schools],” Balance-Kupang said military encampment inside schools, threats and harassments disrupted 35 schools and shut down 58 schools leaving more than 2,000 Lumad students out of school.

In 2017 about 100 Lumad students, parents and teachers mounted a Bakwit Iskul in Metro Manila, a makeshift school for displaced indigenous children.

The Bakwit School, hosted and supported by different universities and churches, became the center of the students’ different educational and social activities, such as student-advocate integrations, educational trips, workshops, and trainings. Students also participated in lobbying and protest actions against the attacks on lumad schools and communities.

Kupang also said that because of some “development projects” the indigenous peoples are internally displaced, with the children suffering the most.

Dr. Shakuntala Vaswani of Peacemakers’ Circle, which works in grassroots communities, said the group has adopted communities who have migrated from Mindanao.

“At the start we are afraid of Muslims,” she said, but after their interaction through intra- and interfaith dialogues, “we are not afraid of Muslims anymore. We are already friends.” They visit places of worship like Buddhist and Hindu temples, and Muslim mosques.

They also provide livelihood projects and loan assistance, which the beneficiaries complete their payment three months in advance.

Eubank said amid all the concerns there is a need to “strengthen faith and family.”

Besides providing relief operations during calamities in the Philippines, Eubank said LDS Charities provides services to mothers and children, nutrition and health.

“The refugee issues is the scourge of our time,” she said, but is hopeful because “the grassroots response is immense” in helping one another.

“I realized that people must have friends, meaningful work and freedom to practice our faith” to have a full life, Eubank said.

She added that men and women are interdependent. “If we truly protect each other, we can create a real balance.”

LDS Area President Evan Schmutz acknowledged the role of women in family and society.

He recognized that women “give your life to help others; to help those in need,” as they have educate and feed their children.

“In every age, it is women who step forward to clean the excesses of men,” he said, and disclosed that the four greatest sources of influence in his life are his grandmother, his mother, daughter and wife.

Reading from the LDS’s “The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” he said, “All human beings… are created in the image of God…. Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children.”

He added that “broken lives go together with broken families.”


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