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
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.”
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.
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.
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.