I WAS TOUCHED by the extreme poverty and suffering, especially of innocent children, in the Philippines after viewing the Gawad Kalinga (GK) website and GK videos.
GK is a non-government, faith-based organization in the Philippines that helps build homes and new lives for the poor living in slums.
When GK's Tony Meloto came to Singapore to speak at a forum at Church of St. Teresa, I shared with him my desire to create a Mission for Nutrition for malnourished children of GK. On Christmas Eve 2006, the Magnificat Children's Choir in St. Teresa's launched the "Mission 4 Nutrition" (M4N).
In January 2007, I spent five days in Metro Manila visiting GK sites and touring slum areas. There, amidst the stench and filth were young kids, barefoot, grimy-faced and undernourished but still smiling. Many have to scavenge on rubbish heaps for a meal each day!
I was wrenched and felt so unworthy as a Christian. I realized I had packaged my faith to be comfortable and convenient, seeming efficiently engaged in church service, yet barely scraping the surface of what Jesus meant by "Love your neighbour as yourself".
These were my neighbours. I had found my life's mission. I put together components for a feeding programme. The Magnificat Choir children helped.
We committed to feed 100 children, with a budget of $5,000 to launch the programme in April 2007, in Baseco, Tondo, formerly a slum notorious for its high crime rate. It was ravaged by fire in 2004 and subsequently rebuilt by GK with almost 1,000 homes.
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GK adopts a process of preparing beneficiaries to live by Gospel values in community. This transforms lives of residents and restores the dignity of Filipino men, now gainfully employed. Crime disappeared in Baseco. Schools, a clinic, community hall, beautiful and bright-coloured houses with flower and vegetable gardens sprouted.
I shared my mission with Catholic school principals, many of whom expressed interest. Then the Philippines Ambassador, Belen Anota informed me of the state visit by President S. R. Nathan of Singapore to the Philippines in February 2007. He had requested to visit Baseco.
This changed my plans. I spoke to Brother Michael Broughton of St. Joseph's Institution (SJI) and the Christian Brothers schools contributed over $30,000 so that President Nathan was able to give a cheque of one million pesos to the children of Baseco as a gift from the children of Singapore. This enabled 500 children to receive the feeding.
Another miracle was the building of the "Feeding Kitchen". It required another $6,000. This came unexpectedly when Siemens Pte Ltd Singapore donated $10,000. The kitchen is named "Singapore Wellness Club".
With the help of volunteers, 118 children, aged three to six, enjoy a nutritious "optimal" shake every school- day, for a whole year. Actual feeding started only in April 2007 as healthcare and mother volunteers were recruited and trained, and families orientated to support the children at home with nutritious food.
My mission took on a much wider perspective when I found out that over 80 percent of the kids suffered from tuberculosis and had badly decayed milk teeth. It costs 500 pesos (about S$16) to feed one child per month and S$160 for a complete treatment of tuberculosis over six months.
CHIJ Kellock responded with an eight-month collection of just S$1 per student per month, enough to sponsor another 48 children from the Singapore-GK village community of Baseco for a year. Later this month, three villages will start the M4N programme for 130-150 children.
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To all Ninoys in Singapore I extend this invitation to become "Balik-Bayans" (returning heroes). Let us work with the wonderfully dedicated leaders and workers of GK to create a healthy and happy Philippines, free of hunger, free of slums.
And to all my brethren in the Catholic community and in Singapore, who are so blessed by God, let's spare a little and share with those who have nothing. We need to teach our children to build bridges of friendship and hope to those of our neighbours who are in dire poverty.
GK has so far created over 3,000 villages. It has become a template for transformation of communities in poverty and is present now in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Cambodia, India, Timor Leste, South Africa and will soon be in Vietnam. GK is truly a thriving testimony of "church in this modern world".
This is made possible with the worldwide network of Couples For Christ members who created and embraced GK as their social mission.
You can show your support for GK at the LOVE Concert on Saturday Sep 15 at 7.30pm and Sunday Sep 16 at 2.00pm at the Auditorium of St. Joseph's Institution, Malcolm Road. Proceeds will go to the "Mission 4 Nutrition".