SINGAPORE – Gawad Kalinga (GK), an organization founded in the Philippines to combat poverty, aims to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in seven years (2003-2010). "Gawad Kalinga" means "to give care" in Tagalog and its ambitious project is called GK777.
GK777 has already built over 30,000 homes in over 1,700 communities for the poor in the Philippines. GK was introduced to Singapore in February 2007 by Church of St. Teresa parishioner Aileen Ong. Together with educators and principals, including Brother Michael Broughton, and the Christian Brothers Schools, and Singapore President S.R. Nathan, one million pesos was raised for a Feeding Mission in GK-Baseco and Manila.
Founder of GK, Antonio Meloto, ‘Tony" to those who know him, focuses on building the GK global network of partners. This helps to ease GK’s access in other developing countries like India, Nigeria, South Africa and Nicaragua. There is in place a fast-growing GK work in Cambodia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea.
Tony Meloto came to Singapore in early May to speak about combating poverty to those who would listen. Accompanying him was Elisea Bebet Gozun, the 2007 Awardee of the UNEP Champion of the Earth, from Green-Kalinga, the eco-arm of GK which aims to build "not just homes but an eco-community".
Tony’s talk at Catholic Junior College was titled "Building the Heart of a Nation". It attracted an audience of 600, comprising students and teachers from CJC, Raffles and Serangoon Junior Colleges, Anglo-Chinese School and St. Joseph’s Institution Independent.
The talk was organized with CJC Principal Brother Paul Rogers and Tan Hoe Teck, coordinator of the school’s Overseas Community Involvement Program (OCIP), who wanted to explore possibilities for student project trips to the Philippines via the GK experience.
Over 100 students said "yes" to the OCIP trips scheduled for the year end. They will build GK homes, work on livelihood projects like vermiculture, organic farming, making organic soaps and detergents, help in the kindergartens and befriend youths through sports and recreational activities, study the GK-infrastructure and programmes, visit other GK sites with varying demographics and experience other cultures. They will also interact daily with GK beneficiaries.
The most important work they can do however, Tony said, "is simply being present".
"This alone speaks tons in restoring the dignity of a people who have long ago lost hope in themselves and in others, having suffered over 350 years of colonialism, landlessness, hunger and want. Our visits convey a message of love so strong that the activity becomes secondary. What can be more powerful than restoring a human being’s belief in himself and in a neighbour?" Tony asked.
Tony also spoke at the Singapore Management University to an audience of about 110 in a room for 90. Those who attended included heads of Corporate Social Responsibility from IBM and Morgan Stanley, participants from Commerzbank, Citibank, NAFA, NIE, NUS, SMU, Singapore and Ngee Ann Polytechnics, St. Andrew’s Junior College, Praise@Work, CFC leaders and members from various Catholic organizations. Almost 50 percent of attendees were professional Filippinos.
The talks were held in the midst of world food shortages, natural disasters and widespread violence.
Tony said, "In the past, we would often look at the victims, not at the root of the problem." He shared it was this observation that led him to launch the GK project in 1995, in Bagong Silang, an area considered the poorest in Metro Manila and notorious for petty crimes.
"I discovered the poor’s problem was not just joblessness but their perception of their loss of human potential to live a productive life. They did not have a sense of security," he said.
"I also realized they could not be helped individually so the intervention had to be community-
based. Charity or relief work would not suffice – the problem of poverty is not (just) economic but rather behavioural, even spiritual," he continued. "The greatest tragedy that we experience now is that our people have lost their capacity to dream. This is the root of our poverty."
Tony is aware there are "numerous laudable paths and noteworthy means" to build the Philippines. There are Corporate Social Responsibility programmes, schools have immersions and civic clubs and churches have outreaches. There are also those who run for public office or take political actions in the streets – all conventional paths of good citizens, he said.
"My chosen path is a disruption to convention. Our dream is clear to us, crazy as it may seem to others – to build a First-World Philippines and to raise a First-Class Filipino in this country in this generation." He agrees it sounds ambitious but adds, "Bakit ka pa magtitipid kung nangangarap ka para sa iyong Bayan? (Why scrimp when you dream for your country?)"
GK also seeks to deepen the bond between Singapore and the Philippines. After all, Singapore is second home to 130,000 Filipinos. Some 75 percent of them are domestic helpers.
Tony acknowledges that Filipinos here have jobs and are treated well but reinforces the GK hope to "address the fundamental needs of the poor that force them to leave, to squat in the city or work abroad as domestic workers, in order to survive".
After hearing Tony’s address, Paulette Lirio from Ernst and Young said, "Feeling the heartbeat of GK in Singapore brought me a sense of blessing. I knew that as a Filipino overseas, I can still make a difference. This time, I will be working with Singaporeans and Filipinos to make the spirit of GK felt and change lives."
Citibanker Raymond Sabio shared, "The talk made me realize the vastness of GK’s work. It also posed a challenge to us – that if Singaporeans are so willing to help poor Filipinos, then why can’t we do the same for our countrymen?"
Collaboration projects have been put in place as a result of Tony’s visit.
Theodore Teo, Assistant Director for Youth Engagement and Expeditions of the National Youth Council coordinated a focus-group meeting of 15 guests with Tony to forge new partnerships in projects, visits and community-initiatives both in Singapore and in the Philippines.
Melissa Kwee, Chairperson of Halogen Foundation Singapore, proposed creating a support structure for domestic workers here to help their families back home be productive.
Tony and Bebet plan to return to Singapore in July or August.
By Joyce Gan
(Written with information from Aileen Ong)