Youth volunteers from Church of St. Francis of Assisi doing construction work with GK in the Carmelray Village in Laguna, Philippines. Photo provided by Joachim Liu
Michael Tan and Huang Moli share their experience of an overseas mission trip
SINGAPORE – We joined nine youths from the parish of St. Francis of Assisi for a Lenten mission trip to the Philippines under Gawad Kalinga (GK), and each of us returned changed.
GK is a Philippines-based poverty reduction and nation-building movement that helps build communities and restore human dignity for worse-off Filipinos. We got to know of GK through the Praise@Work community who inspired us when they shared about their 2008 trip.
Our group of 11 formed from the Bridging Light Youth and Young Adult Office were assigned to GK Carmelray Village in Laguna, a two-hour car journey from Manila. On arrival, the villagers warmly received us and greeted us with excitement, eagerness and love. Each of us was hosted by a family from the village who gave up their bedrooms for us while they squeezed into another room or slept in the living room.
We especially treasured the evenings we spent with them – moments often neglected in our own families due to distractions such as work, television programmes, newspapers, and computers. One important lesson we learnt was to simply be with the people around us, regardless of activity or lack thereof.
For four days, we woke up at 6.00am, and did construction work till early afternoon. We interacted with the children afterwards and, at nights, attended sessions conducted by GK personnel.
However, it was the kids that left us with the deepest impression.
They were always happy, eager to say ‘hello’, to hold our hands, give a hug, get to know us, or simply stick around us. They were also eager to help us in our construction work! When we toiled under the sun shovelling buckets filled with soil, or sand and cement to lay floors of houses, a horde of children would surround and help us. We were amazed by their initiative!
It was truly moving to see our mission team and the children working side by side, doing our little part to build up their community, and having fun at the same time!
GK’s idea of “sweat equity” also impressed many of us. It “helps beneficiaries move beyond just being recipients”, said Justin Goldman, 30. “It encourages them to have a stake in the homes that they are given,” contributing and ‘paying’ for their homes through hours of sweat in construction work and community service.
It did not matter that the environment was harsh. Alicia Pang, 19, shared that in addition to a sprained ankle, sunburn, aching muscles, and bruises, she also came back with “new and renewed friendships with GK Carmelray residents and the mission team”.
“These experiences have been embedded in my memory and [given me] a whole new perspective of appreciation and contentment,” she said.
Gabrielle Tan, 19, was struck that city dwellers today prioritise material possessions over giving and receiving love from those around them. The villagers had less than we did, materially, but they showed us how much richer their lives were. They were poor, but grateful and contented.
Most of us went without expectations, and perhaps that is why we gained so much. We came back different people, more fired up for God and for the people around us. We grew, we learnt, we were healed, we opened our hearts, and we were empowered to make a difference to others’ lives, just as the Carmelray villagers did to ours.