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Saturday, October 14, 2006

What is Gawad Kalinga?

Thank you to everyone who has been emailing me about my GK work. I thought about putting together a short FAQ list based on what I have come to learn in the past eight months about the organization and the work that we do. So here it goes:

What is Gawad Kalinga? Is it related to ABS-CBN?

Gawad Kalinga is an integrated area development program spearheaded by the Couples For Christ Catholic charismatic community. Formally launched in October 2003, it aims to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in 7 years. To date, there are about 20,000 homes in some 900 communities in about 300 towns and cities all over the Philippines, plus GK sites in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea.

It basically sprang from the CFC community’s aim of bringing glad tidings to the poor. As the community was expanding, they saw the need to make more tangible the love of God for all His creation. They experienced that it is hard to preach His love to people whose stomachs are grumbling or who have no roof over their heads. From then on, it has hurtled from a “mere” act of charity- one house at a time built from monies out of the members’ pockets- to a true endeavor towards community development and nation-building.

No, it is not an ABS-CBN project. But ABS-CBN has sponsored a village near Fairview in Quezon City.

How different is Gawad Kalinga from other foundations which also build houses for the poor?

GK did not reinvent the wheel, in a manner of speaking. But what it did- does- is make everyone realize how important that wheel is and how anybody and everybody can AND should participate in its creation.

It aims for empowerment rather than dole-outs. It works for sustainability rather than one-shot photo-ops. The poor have been made dependent on external help for so long so much so that have been rendered helpless and inarticulate with regard to their needs and wants. It’s high time we help them restore dignity back to their lives.

It is a unifier rather a polarizer. Regardless of your position in the political spectrum, your affiliation or religious denomination- anyone is welcome to be a GK partner or volunteer. Today, Cory Aquino maybe the guest in a GK site. Tomorrow, Gloria might be there. Boehringer Ingelheim and Pfizer working side by side in one GK site? Yes they are. Proctor and Gamble and Unilever, too. Smart and Globe even. Add Shell and Petron as well.

Yes, GK is unique in many aspects: from being “steered” by a religious organization (a virtual no-no in community development work) to the manner by its site houses are designed and constructed. A group of MIT students who visited GK BASECO in Tondo complained to their teacher that based on their engineering computations, the houses ought to be NOT standing. They accused their teacher of teaching them wrong information. To this the professor could only shrug his shoulders and believe what their eyes are seeing before them.

I would like to summarize all that is happening with the fact that we are shifting from DO-GOOD-ISM to HEROISM. It sounds so romanticized and surreal and idealized, but that is practically what I personally breathe and experience in GK. People leaving their 6-figure-salary jobs to work full-time with GK. People putting their personal lives “on-hold” to volunteer in GK activities. Companies making all their resources available for GK. Housing beneficiaries going the extra mile to care for their homes, their communities, and their fellow residents. Muslims and Christians, Mormons and Catholics working together.

Nope, GK did not reinvent the wheel. GK just attached it to people’s hearts, minds, and feet to get us all moving, with the utmost sense of urgency, to help bring dignity back to the lives of the poorest of the poor.

Why is it an integrated area development program?

As an integrated area development program, GK builds communities, not just houses. While the houses are being built and soon after the houses are built and beyond the house building phase, simultaneous activities are being undertaken to make each site a functioning and truly liveable community.

Its main components are:

TATAG and ENVIRONMENT: the house-building component. This one is responsible for the paving of the road, the engineering and architecture needs, the drainage system, etc. The residents or housing unit beneficiaries are the ones who will build the houses themselves. They put in what is termed as ‘sweat equity’ meaning, the houses are not given to them for free. They work for something like 200 hours, building NOT their own homes but their neighbors’. The land their houses sit on are not usually free too. Depending on the agreement with the previous owner of the land, they can pay as little as PHP300 a month

KAPITBAHAYAN and VALUES FORMATION: actually, before any house is built, the residents of, say, a squatters area that will be converted into a GK site, will undergo a multi-week values-formation program where they will be taught, challenged, and molded to become better stewards of God’s blessings. A general re-orientation for some, a reinforcement for many.

The Kapitbahayan serves as the residents’ organization. One KB is usually made up of 50 homes. It is the body that leads in the tackling of major issues that need action or decision from the residents. A set of officers are elected to at set intervals to give guidance to the entire community.

LIVELIHOOD: There are various livelihood initiatives per GK site depending on the province or city it is located in, the skills/ know-how of the residents, the partner organizations/ corporations, among others. But in many sites now there’s a program called Bayan-Anihan, an agricultural productivity cum food security thrust.

EDUCATION and YOUTH DEVELOPMENT: There is a “standard” education and youth development program per GK site.

The SIBOL program, for kids aged 3-5, delivers quality pre-school education to GK site kids at par with most private institutions. Many of the teachers involved in this program are either volunteers or have agreed to take on the task of teaching at fees lower than what many mainstream schools offer.

The SAGIP and SIGA programs cater to grade school kids and teenagers, respectively. They usually contain after-school activities which enhance their lives like music, theater arts, academic tutorials, sports, etc.

HEALTH: This is the component of GK I work with and will be discussed extensively in the next post.

On top of the situation, so to speak, is a CARETAKER TEAM from the CFC community which acts as the project management team. Each site has a caretaker team composed of project managers for each component or pillar of GK in that community, e.g. a Sibol project manager, Tatag project manager, etc. The GK site residents are not left on their own to fend for themselves right away. Site leaders are constantly guided and given the skills and knowledge to take care of their own communities in preparation for the day that they will takeover from the “old” caretaker team who are initially made up of non-GK site residents.

I’m afraid it all sounds so academic but my blog can hardly contain all that is GK. Best is to visit the GK site nearest you.

So how can we help in GK?
The entry point of many companies and individuals to GK is through The Build. Corporations, organizations, alumni classes, Filipino expatriates, families, and other groups have put together their resources to build homes or create villages altogether. Each house currently costs PHP 60,000- a sturdy enough shelter to protect a family from the elements and afford to them the dignity they deserve.

As I have mentioned, there are other pillars or components of GK. So there is practically an avenue for anyone and everyone to be part of GK and be a hero for our country- from tutoring kids, to teaching them livelihood skills and financial stewardship to helping them take care of their own health. Speaking of health…

(In the photos, from the top: GK logo; the GK Brookside Visitor Center highlighting what GK stands for- Bagong Bahay, Bagong Bagong Buhay, Bagong Bayan; GK 1MB aims to raise an army of a million volunteers to do GK work; the marker in front of GK Blue Eagle Village in Payatas 13, QC where I work; a row of houses in GK Blue Eagle; Kuya Roldan, Kapitbahayan VP in GK Brookside where I also work; GK Brookside's Cooperative Store where about 60% of residents are members; the SIBOL kids and SIBOL school in Blue Eagle; Papic of UP Med and exchange medical student Venla from Finland help during the Independence Day Build in Brookside.)

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