Bayanihan is a core essence of the Filipino culture. It is helping out one’s neighbor as a community, and doing a task together.  Today, through GAWAD KALINGA, the Filipino people (and our global neighbors) are working together to achieve our common dream: a slum-free Philippines.

Gawad Kalinga and Antonio “Tony” Meloto are often said to be  twin sides of one picture .  However, Gawad Kalinga has  spawned such a far-reaching network of participants – both beneficiaries and donors – since it was established up in 2000 and has set in motion such a  tidal wave of

Gawad Kalinga Volunteers

social and personal transformations  that Meloto would undoubtedly be the first to declare that success has many fathers.

And so today, Gawad Kalinga stands on equal footing with its co-founder, as it is named with its family of partners, donors, volunteers and beneficiaries,  to share with him the 2006 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership. The honor comes in recognition of their harnessing the “faith and generosity of Filipinos the world over to confront poverty in their homeland and to provide every Filipino the dignity of a decent home and neighborhood.”

Just what is Gawad Kalinga?  In a nutshell, GK—which translates in English to “to give care” —  is a movement that begins by building a  house for the poorest  family in the neediest area and moves on to build “villages, ” providing them with facilities for education, livelihood, health, medical attention, community development and  spiritual growth,  in short, all the opportunities for  decent, productive and peaceful lives and a brighter future for their resident families.

People have used different words to describe GK, such as: “ a movement that seeks the common good and is committed to the spirit of caring and sharing,” “ a process of transformation,” “a relationship, a friendship…a partnership, a cooperation…,” “ a community founded on faith and the highest cultural values,” “a model area which showcases the best of the Filipino.”

2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee GAWAD KALINGA

They all point to the same thing. GK has emerged as an engine of hope for the countless poverty-stricken of the Philippines. It functions, in fact, as a template for  getting cooperation for the common good between  multi-sectoral  private organizations and individuals and the government, as facilitated by the Couples for Christ (CFC), the Church-based lay organization that supports GK.

It all began  when CFC social ministries director Tony Meloto and his CFC colleagues “immersed” themselves circa 1995 among the delinquent youth in the squatter relocation area of Bagong Silang , Caloocan. After four years of this ministry, which he named Gawad Kalinga or “to give care, “  Tony had accumulated some crucial observations about the poor. Chief of these was that “ a slum environment develops slum behavior.”

From up close, he knew how slums breed hopelessness, helplessness, despair, crime, violence.

Another insight  was that “poverty is a lack of sharing , an abandonment of the poor by the rich.” It was not enough, he saw, for the rich to pray or to just donate a few pesos to charity. Something more had to be done by those with more in life for those with the least – and in the process  raise the country out of its quagmire of Third World degradation.

2006 Ramon Magsaysay Awardee GAWAD KALINGA

A slum-free Philippines would be GK’s battle-cry. And so Tony and his CFC team started  building  houses for the poorest of the poor.  With volunteers  and resources donated by CFC , and with “sweat equity” provided by the willing residents of the area, some 10 houses were built in the first GK village, located fittingly in Bagong Silang (new born).

That was just the beginning of the dream.  In quick succession,  GK mapped out programs to implement, as follows:

1)  Shelter or “Tatag” – Builds and improves houses, provides physical structures such as pathways, drainage systems, water and  toilet facilities,  school, livelihood center, multi-purpose hall, clinic,etc..

2) Education or “Sibol, Sagip, and Siga” – Sibol gives pre-school children (3-6 years) values-based  education. Sagip gives street children (7-13 years) tutorials and training in sports and creative arts. Siga  (Serving In God’s Army) provides scholarships to deserving youths and also rehabilitates young offenders and delinquents without institutionalizing them and then mainstreaming them to productive endeavors.

3) Health or “Lusog” – Malnutrition is addressed and arrested, parents are taught the value of proper diet and nutrition, the health profile of every beneficiary is monitored and proper medical attention given.

4) Livelihood or “Sikap” – Livelihood skills are provided, capital and materials are furnished, and market for products provided. Food self-sufficiency is encouraged through vegetable gardens, fish ponds, etc.

5) Community Development or “Kapitbahayan” – This is a neighborhood association to inculcate the values of stewardship, accountability, team effort and cooperation, unity and community spirit. It is actually  the mechanism for sustainable development as it institutionalizes the principle of helping the poor help themselves.

It is clear that GK is a well-thought-out, holistic approach to the problem of poverty, a whole process of capacity-building –empowerment, if you will – moving to the ultimate goal of self-reliance and self-sufficiency for the individual, his family and community.

GAWAD KALINGA Homes

Today there are more than 850 GK villages all over the Philippines, thanks to the time,  money and efforts of  an ever-growing network of partners, donors ands volunteers only too happy to deal with a group like CFC, whose stewardship of GK has always been transparent, apolitical and totally credible.  There are villages sponsored by foreign-based Filipinos and over a hundred more sponsored by major corporations, including developed countries’ development assistance programs, and the numbers are growing.

A GK project called Kalinga Luzon , launched in 2005, has enlisted the help of different government agencies, as well as over 80 municipal mayors of  different provinces,  to build 40,000 homes for storm victims in two years, or a total commitment of  7,000 new communities  by 2010. GK has even started to expand to neighboring Asian countries.

Unbelievably, the neat rainbow-colored GK villages , with their flower and vegetable gardens , complete with parks, playgrounds and health centers, have today become tourist attractions for visiting foreigners and expatriate Filipinos, either donors wanting to see where their money has gone or investors looking for a good cause beneficial to the country. Tony Meloto likes to point out that zero crime has been noted in some areas.  Residents have also become more neighborly,  women evolving into more caring mothers,  men giving  up drinking and gambling to tend to their homes and income-earning projects, children attending school and leaving off delinquency. This indeed  confirms his favorite theory that  changing the slum environment  changes slum behavior.

Even more, GK villages have become the medium through which thousands of donors and volunteers have come to experience personal transformations by their very acts of generosity and sharing. The greatest beneficiary, one must  say, is the country : Filipinos have found a reason to unite, to reduce the gap and the resentments between rich and poor, to be proud of the country.

As a primer on GK  points out, Christ did not just preach, He also fed the hungry, healed the sick, educated the ignorant and most likely, built houses because He was the son of a carpenter. The first house GK built has literally become a mansion with rooms for the many lives it has given the opportunity to be transformed. If alone for tapping  into the  innate longing of the Filipino to give his best to his country,  and  for harnessing that patriotism and faith  to good effect, Gawad Kalinga richly deserves on its own the  Ramon Magsaysay Award.