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Sunday, April 15, 2007

GK Bayani Challenge 2007: Heroes at work, do not delay

Each house is more beautiful than either St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City or San Sebastian Church in Manila.

Sheer love and joy enveloped each particle of sand, each speck of cement, each shovel-full of gravel.

The hot summer sun provided a fitting backdrop to faith, patriotism and heroism aflame as volunteers flocked to Anislag in Daraga, Albay, one of the sites for this year’s Gawad Kalinga Bayani Challenge.

Two months into Bicol’s recovery from the effects of Milenyo, another monumental disturbance wrecked havoc over the region in the form of Typhoon Reming. It precipitated an unprecedented chain of events that up to now, five months after the storm has passed, the consequences are still being dealt with: hardly-alive (above), vegetation, felled trees, toppled shacks, washed out bridges. But the good news is, despite the fact that the upcoming elections and other political issues now hog the front page of dailies, many people still care about Bicol and have not forgotten.

We arrived on Day 4 of the Bayani Challenge to join the local CFC and LGU teams who put up a first aid station to look after the health concerns of volunteers. Teams from MERALCO, Ayala Young Leaders’ Alliance, ABS-CBN, the National Youth Commission, Youth For Christ, Singles For Christ, and some 10 other groups from diverse areas like Isabela, Bohol, and Marawi City have converged in this barangay. By the time we got there, 40 houses in various stages of construction have already sprung forth from previously empty lots, including three homes which the AFP Engineering Corps put up in just three days, all part of the 600 homes committed to be built in the are. The houses are “standard” GK houses, each having about 20 square meters of liveable space.

True to the GK concept of bayanihan, each household who will receive a GK house must put in 500 hours of work in the TATAG or shelter-building phase. What’s more awesome is that they do not know which among the houses being built is going to be theirs! And so each house is constructed with equal amounts of TLC- no shaky walls or leaking roofs allowed!

We got the chance to talk to a woman who had three adorable kids with her while we enjoyed the shade of a home adjacent to a sari-sari store which sold ice-cold softdrinks. She hails from Binitayan, if I understood correctly, a barangay in Guinobatan town, at the foot of Mayon. She is part of the third batch of beneficiaries to receive a GK home. She said that she was already listed to be among the first beneficiaries but since no one in her family was able to put the necessary volunteer-hours, she got moved farther down the list. Now her brother is helping build homes in GK Anislag as their family’s commitment to GK. (Above: Near the Cagsawa ruins, a house stands in window-high mud and debris, a testament to the massive flood and mudslide that came with Reming.)

My visit to Bicol last December was limited to Camarines Sur so the devastation of Reming in other towns I learned only through newscasts and broadsheets. (Above and below: new waterways carved out and remain as Reming reshaped the landscape of towns near the foot of Mayon).

But this woman’s account of what happened truly shook me. Apparently, they tried to stick it out in their original home during the rains and when they decided to move out, the water was already somewhere between being waist- and neck-high. Her kids then were just four, three, and about 4 months old. She, along with her husband, brother, and parents waded through the floods, actually a river carved from nothing due to the torrential rain and winds, carrying aloft the children to safety. They still call a public school, to this day, home. Hopefully, Bon-bon, Justine (below), and Nicole- now 9 months old- will not stay there for long.

Buckets of concrete being passed from hand to hand to facilitate faster rebuilding of lives. Teenagers spending time under the sun, not to sunbathe but to haul manageable loads of gravel so they will no longer need to grovel. Yuppies coming in contact not with sands of Boracay but the sand used in building homes and hope for this disaster-stricken community. A disaster-stricken community helps itself, allows help to come in, and in turn helps a generation find a venue for its faith and patriotism to shine through.

God is truly present in this place.

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