BOSTON – The most popular misconception about Gawad Kalinga (GK) is that it is just about building homes for the poor, an image that may have been generated by GK’s previously announced goal to build 700,000 homes in 7000 communities throughout the Philippines in 7 years. But the 800 delegates attending the First GK Global Summit (June 12-14, 2009) at the Cambridge suburb of this city harbor no such illusions because we learned that GK is more ambitious than that.
For three days of plenary sessions at the Cambridge Marriott Hotel and workshops at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and at Harvard University , we heard speakers flesh out the details of GK’s Vision 2024 platform: a 21-year timeline (2003-2024) aimed at “eradicating homelessness, hunger, and poverty for the millions of impoverished Filipino families all over the Philippines .”
Before skeptics scoff at GK’s ambitious agenda, they should visit any one of the more than 2,000 GK villages (200,000 homes) that have been established all over the Philippines from Aparri to Jolo just in the last six years. These homes were financed by the donations of governmental and non-governmental entities, profit and non-profit corporations and individuals in the Philippines and overseas, including thousands of Filipino-American and Filipino-Canadian donors throughout North America . They were built by legions of volunteers and by the homeless squatters themselves who invested their “sweat equity” into the homes they would own and reside in.
GK’s founder, Tony Meloto, had often preached that “slum conditions breed slum mentalities” and that to get rid of the slum mentalities, you have to get rid of the slums and replace them with decent housing and more. To that end, throughout the country, GK has built colorful, durable and secure homes for the poorest of the poor. Its TATAG program provides pathways, drainage systems, water and toilet facilities, a school, a livelihood center, a multi-purpose hall and a clinic. In some GK villages, basketball courts and libraries have also been constructed.
Each GK village sets up a SIBOL program for its pre-school children and a SIGA program to provide after-school counseling for its students. GK also provides a LUS OG community health care program for its residents with a clinic staffed by volunteer physicians and paramedical practitioners. Its GAWAD KABUHAYAN program conducts livelihood and skills training, start-up capital and materials for microfinance and micro-enterprises, and assists in the marketing of the products created by the GK communities.
Among the Summit speakers who discussed the GK way of governance were two provincial governors (Luis Raymond Villafuerte, Jr. of Camarines Del Sur; and Sally Lee of Sorsogon), five mayors (Sigfrido Tinga of Taguig, Rizal; Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija; Tito Sarion of Daet, Camarines Norte; Jojo Binay of Makati; and Rico Rentuza of Guinsaugon, Leyte), two senators (Kiko Pangilinan and Miguel Zubiri) and one vice-president, Noli de Castro.
One speaker at a GK Harvard workshop, Alex Lacson, used Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore as an example of how an idea can transform a nation. When he became the leader of his country in 1959, Singapore was one of the poorest countries in Asia . Without natural resources, how could Singapore ever hope to become a rich and prosperous country, Lee Kuan Yew asked.
“There is only one way, he told his people. And that is through discipline. Lee Kuan Yew challenged his people that if they learn to become a disciplined people, Singapore will become rich and prosperous. When Lee Kuan Yew stepped down from power as prime minister of Singapore in 1990, almost 31 years since he rose to power, Singapore was already the second richest and most prosperous country in the whole of Asia, second only to Japan . He proved to the whole world that a country, through discipline, even without natural resources, could become rich and prosperous.”
The Philippines has abundant natural resources but presents a more formidable challenge with a population of 88 million (compared to Singapore ’s 5 million) spread out over 7,108 islands, and a history of colonial and neo-colonial subjugation that has imbedded what James Fallows called a “damaged culture” on its people.
“Culture is destiny,” Lee Kuan Yew said. “Your set of beliefs will determine how far you can get in life.” The challenge for GK is to transform the Filipino people’s set of beliefs about themselves, about their innate greatness and goodness as a people and as a nation capable of doing anything and everything to improve their lives.
At the core of Gawad Kalinga’s mission is its founder, Tony Meloto, who provides the personal example to GK supporters throughout the world. His ideas and his vision for the Philippines can be found in his newly-released book called “Builder of Dreams”. In the back of the book is an essay written by Dr. Jose Abueva, founding president of Kalayaan College , who wrote:
“At the heart of Tony’s transforming leadership and example and the inspired efforts of his legions of co-leaders, followers and supporters, is his conscious and determined fusion of his religious faith and his secular idealism. He combines God’s teachings to love and help the poor among us with the secular vision of building a just and humane society in which all enjoy their human rights through good citizenship, good leadership and good governance.”
“He demonstrates that through community self-help, cooperation and solidarity, this unity and integrity of faith and practical reason can lead to the transformation of people, communities and leaders from different spheres of life.”
The GK Global Summit was the perfect antidote to anyone in despair about Filipinos and the Philippines . But even those who did not attend the conference can still rid themselves of despair by joining GK and supporting its 2024 vision to transform the Philippines and the Filipino people. Check out www.gawadkalinga.org.