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Waking up every day at 3am, Gemma Cagoco commutes from her home in Pasig to the designated kitchen area in Buendia, to prepare for the day ahead. She is the cook of the non-profit organization, Duterte’s Kitchen, which initiates feeding operations to less fortunate communities and calamity victims. Every day, her dedication and devotion is her driving force to share her time and extend help to less fortunate children. From the scooping of rice to the boiling of water, from the chopping and cooking, despite the heat and early morning call time, Gemma shows up each and every time.
Once a street vendor, she always had the heart for children she saw during her time on the streets. So when an opportunity presented itself, she applied as a cook for the organization in 2016. “Naghanap sila ng cook, nag-apply ako sa kanila [as volunteer]. Ayun, hanggang sa pumunta ako sa Duterte’s Kitchen, marami akong batang natutulungan kasi dinadala ko sila doon, pinapakain ko sila,” she shared with a warm smile. It was on October 2016 that Duterte’s Kitchen started, “Nakuha ang konseptong ‘to sa Davao, ‘yung libreng lugaw sa Davao ni Pangulong Duterte,” Gail Gumana, Operations Manager of the non-profit organization said. And from its founding up until now, Gemma continues to share her time and effort as a cook.
From Monday to Saturday, Duterte’s Kitchen goes around Metro Manila to have feeding operations in different barangays, communities and even those who experienced calamities. “May limang staff po ang Duterte’s Kitchen. Sila po ang namamalagi na kung saan ang Duterte’s Kitchen at kung saan magpapakain, nandyan po sila. Sila po ‘yung nagpe-prepare ng mga pagkain,” Gail shared. Jeffrey Abarilla, one of the staff, expressed how Duterte’s Kitchen does not accept cash donations, “Wala pong cash na pumapasok sa atin dito sa Duterte’s Kitchen, which is ‘yun po ‘yung number one na pinagkakaingatan namin na rule.” Instead, in-kind donations are what give life to the NGO.
Gemma can actually go home already once she finishes cooking, but she still chooses to stay and help out during the feeding operations. “Hindi kasi dumating ‘yung time na napagod kami kasi kumbaga, instead na pagod ka, pag nakita mo ‘yung mga bata, tas naka-ilang ulit, nawawala kasi ‘yung pagod mo doon.” This woman’s kind heartedness and dedication is something everyone can learn from. In fact, to earn a living, she does laundry, but she makes sure to set aside time for volunteering. No doubt, a great example and a reminder for everyone.
In sharing and doing what is good, there are instances where the bad happens too. “Marami kasi kaming nae-encounter. Andyan ‘yung napapahiya kami, andyan ‘yung pupunta kami sa isang barangay, hindi kami payagan. Andyan ‘yung mumurahin kami,” Gemma said. Yet those cases are nothing to them because, they focus on their goal, to help people, the children; that no one will sleep with an empty stomach.
After the hundreds of children she have fed with the rice porridge she diligently cooks each day, Gemma will continue to do what she does. “Hangga’t may Duterte’s Kitchen, hindi ako aalis,” she said with a big smile and happy, sparkling eyes. A heart dedicated to help and serve, Gemma is just one of the many Juans all around, contributing towards the betterment of the people and society.
Video Editor: Chaira Matias
Videographers: Chaira Matias, Shekina Alfonso, Faye Alingod