October 11th 2008 marked the 5th anniversary of the formal launch of Gawad Kalinga, a colossal movement which aims to eradicate poverty in the Philippines and restore the dignity of the poor. The Bonifacio Global City in Taguig was the convergence point of some 40,000 Gawad Kalinga residents, volunteers, partners, and friends- all of whom came for a well-deserved day of fellowship, to take stock of the past year’s accomplishments, as well as to re-commit to finish the work that remains.
What is Gawad Kalinga or GK? Initially, Gawad Kalinga- which translates to GIVE CARE in English- aimed to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in 7 years (2003-2010). This was in recognition of how poverty in the Philippines is already an emergency and no less than an immense, sweeping revolution of hope and action will turn the tide in favor of the poor. At the forefront of this movement is Couples For Christ (CFC), a Catholic charismatic community, which has adopted GK as the means to fulfill its mission of “bringing glad tidings to the poor.” The initial response of many CFC members was to build one or two houses for the poorest among them living in the poorest neighborhoods. It seemed sufficient- at that time. But the CFC realized that those houses were not enough; more needed to be built and built fast.
As GK and CFC expanded the work from a handful of homes to entire communities, partners, friends, and volunteers began streaming in and have become co-advocates of the GK way- Less for oneself, More for others, Enough for all.
Slums gave way to dignified communities. Houses were not given for free, but with a corresponding “sweat equity” that allowed the residents to put in honest days’ work building homes for one another. Volunteers from top, rival universities and corporations laid bricks and painted homes in friendly competition. Shelter for informal settlers in urban areas and disaster-ravaged populations in rural areas became possible.
But the work of GK did not stop with building homes. Health, education, livelihood, and environmental programs are also in place to allow the total transformation and development of communities. Strong values formation and re-orientation initiatives are being undertaken to help them harness their talents and potentials as well as to enhance their attitudes and outlook in life which may have been muddled by their years of poverty and powerlessness. Community empowerment is being nurtured in GK villages to enable the residents to move away from being passive recipients of dole-outs and become proactive decision-makers with a clear stake and mandate.
And as GK inches closer to 2010, it is once again re-configuring itself with a much bigger vision and mission. GK777 is no longer just building 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in 7 years. GK777 is now a 21-year commitment to help spur development in the lives of more than 5 million Filipino living in the poorest conditions, underscored by this year’s GK Expo theme- Walang Iwanan or Nobody Gets Left Behind. The work of GK is likewise expanding overseas, with GK villages rising in countries like Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, among others nations. To match this ever-expanding work, GK is amassing its army of one million volunteers (GK1MB or GK 1 Million Builders) from all walks of life and around the world.
Which is not very hard to do. It is still an everyday fare in GK to meet professionals who have quit their high-paying jobs abroad to work fulltime for GK; grade school kids who scrimped and saved their allowance so their class can raise money to help build one house; mothers and grandmothers in GK villages who have courageously attended lectures on first aid so they can be volunteer health workers in their community (on top of their already busy schedules at home); local government leaders with whom GK partners with to ensure the sustainability of programs and interventions.
I have seen love of God through love of country by way of Gawad Kalinga. Political colors are drowned by the multicolored homes of GK residents. Corporations who are erstwhile competitors in the marketplace are now partners in nation-building when they set foot on GK villages. Ordinary Filipinos become heroes when they donate their precious time in GK sites- with each stroke of the paintbrush, each child they tutor, each patient they see, each tree they plant. The poor no longer have arms outstretched waiting to be helped but rather these same arms now help others rise up and move forward.
There are a million and one problems and challenges in the realm of poverty. But we can do something about them. We ARE doing something concrete to address these concerns. Gawad Kalinga, its leaders, partners, volunteers, friends and the GK village residents themselves are working hard to have land for the landless, homes for the homeless, water for the thirsty, food for the hungry, light for those in darkness, dignified health for all. Gawad Kalinga, with God’s provision, is changing the Philippine landscape, replacing poverty with hope, one home at a time, one community at a time.
Click here for more of my stories on working with Gawad Kalinga. More about Gawad Kalinga can be read in its official website http://www.gawadkalinga.org. If you’re a health professional and you wish to help in a Gawad Kalinga village, you can visit http://www.gawadkalusugan.org and email info[at]gawadkalusugan.org.
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