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PHOTOS: How families struggle to feed their children during the pandemic

When I was a child, my Filipino mother served my little sister and I freshly made rice – sweet, chewy and steaming – at dinner, while she ate the leftover hard, dry rice from the night before.

It was a small act of love and sacrifice. She didn’t want to risk running out of fresh rice for us children.

This is how parents think. And in a pandemic that has grown one in three people in food insecurity in 2020, according to the UN, the sacrifices are even greater. In our special report on who is now struggling to put food on the table, parents and grandparents told us that they skip meals or eat food that is cheap, plentiful but not very nutritious so that ‘they can use their limited budget to meet the needs of young people in the family.

But they still find ways to feed their children.

Read their stories below – and read more stories about food insecurity in the pandemic here. – Malaka Gharib


No matter how little you have, ‘always feed the little ones’

Gloria Hernandez, 82, says her biggest concern in the pandemic is making sure her two young grandsons are fed.

“Always feed the children,” she says. “No matter how hard life is, always feed the little ones. We adults can survive.” When Gloria and her daughter get vegetables, fish or meat, they give them to the boys.

Before COVID, Hernandez made a living selling bags of rice harvested by his children, who are farmers. But because their work in the fields was disrupted by the lockdowns, they gave him fewer bags.

Hernandez therefore held various jobs to support himself and his household. Her 52-year-old daughter and two grandsons, a 15-year-old student and a 22-year-old who works as an unpaid intern at the local municipal office, live with and depend on Hernandez.

She supplements her income by making and selling walis ting ting, coconut fiber brooms. When there is work on the farm, she takes it, but there hasn’t been much during the pandemic.

She gets $ 10 a month from her government pension, which she uses to buy blood pressure medication and milk, but it’s still not enough to feed everyone. So sometimes she borrows from loan sharks.

For breakfast and lunch, Hernandez and her daughter eat rice with a little coffee poured over it for flavoring. Dinner is usually dried fish with rice for dinner. They know it’s not healthy eating, but it’s better than being hungry, she says. Hernandez craves the chicken and fresh fish she used to eat.

Photos and report by Xyza Cruz Bacani


Beans, cookies and noodles to quell hunger – with an occasional serving of chicken for their 6-year-old

When the pandemic struck, the national army installed a barbed wire fence around the district of Mohd Ali. The idea was to restrict movement and prevent the transmission of COVID-19. For Ali, the fence prevented access to his job as a restaurant dishwasher.

Then, after a cycle of closings, the restaurant closed earlier this year.

The work was good. Ali, 32, earned $ 10 to $ 12 a day and could support his family. He tried to find a new job, but it was difficult, he says. The labor market is saturated. And he lives in the country without legal permission, which makes it even more difficult for him to find work. He and his family came to Malaysia in 2015 to escape the Rohingya crisis in Burma.

What is most important to him, he says, is taking care of his pregnant wife and 6-year-old daughter. The family lives on dwindling savings, food aid from charities and caring neighbors who occasionally donate provisions.

Family favorite foods – fried chicken, eggs, fruit, and bread – are now out of their budget. They mainly eat beans. They can afford a small amount of chicken but feed most of it to their daughter. To avoid the feeling of hunger, Ali says he fills his stomach with cookies and instant noodles, but fears it may not be healthy eating.

Sometimes, he says, he thinks about moving to Milwaukee. This is where his wife’s sister lives.

Photos and report by Annice Lyn


“Their education is more important than our stomachs”

Aviwe Maphini, 30, was progressing in her career as a lawyer. She even got a raise. She and her husband, a policeman, made enough money to send their 6-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter to “a good school,” she said. And the couple could even donate money to their siblings.

They also had sufficient disposable income to take care of themselves. “I was able to take my family on occasion – to the beach, to restaurants,” she says. “We were going to Bonnaire’s [a pizza franchise]. The kids always looked forward to payday because they knew we would take them out just to spoil them. “

Maphini lost his job at the start of the pandemic. “[My supervisor] called me to a meeting and told me I was going to be in the first phase of layoffs, ”she said. “I was so sad and upset. The first thing I thought of were my children. “

Fortunately, she says, her husband was able to keep his job – and his salary keeps them afloat. “He’s the one who pays off the mortgage, buys the children’s clothes and pays their school fees.”

Instead of going to a law firm every day, Maphini volunteers at a soup kitchen three days a week. She can take leftover food home.

Family meals have changed dramatically. “Before the pandemic, I bought red meat, sausages, salads. We eat a lot of rice now, soup and potatoes,” Maphini explains. Sometimes she and her husband skip meals.

Her biggest goal, she says, is to make sure her children stay in school. “Their education is more important than our stomach. As long as we can still afford something to eat at the end of the day, that’s fine.”

Photos and report by Tommy Trenchard

Additional credits

Xyza Cruz Bacani and Annice Lyn are part of the Community of everyday projects, contribute to Instagram accounts of countries in Asia, Africa, Central and South America, North America and Europe. Visuals edited by Ben de la Cruz, Ian Morton and Nicole Werbeck. Text by Suzette Lohmeyer. Text edited by Malaka Gharib and Marc Silver. Special thanks to Caroline Drees, Senior Director of Field Safety and Security at NPR.

Let us know what you think of this story. E-mail [email protected] with your comments with the subject line “Food insecurity”.

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