Sunday, August 05, 2007

Once in a Lifetime

A forwarded e-mail of my fellow member in a Club (Filipino Press Club) here in Dubai. I post this for us to think (for all pinoy's out there who may read these) not to promote the GK (Gawad Kalinga) but for us to realized who we are and what we can do as Truly Pilipino's.
This post was an experianced of a foriegn person who just pass by in the Philippines and shared what he gained and experienced during his stay.
Once in a Lifetime

By Zhao Song Inquirer Last updated 09:11am (Mla time) 07/29/2007

MANILA, Philippines—I never expected to be a hero. But I think that I have become one—along with many others.
I learned about Gawad Kalinga during my first trip to the Philippines last year. I was working towards my bachelor’s degree in Philippine Studies at Beijing University and the trip was to understand more about the Philippines, the country that I had been studying for four years.
During the trip, my classmates and I went to Baseco to see the GK villages there. I was greatly impressed when I saw the kids in Baseco playing in front of their small but colorful houses, especially when I was told that the place used to be one of the biggest squatter colonies in Metro Manila. I then decided that if I had the chance to study in the Philippines, I would do a study on GK.
After college, I pursued graduate studies, also focusing on the Philippines, and got a six-month scholarship grant at the Ateneo de Manila University last January. So I came back and was well prepared to do research on GK.
The first three months I spent in GK villages in Baseco, Payatas and in Escalante, Negros Occidental. I conducted surveys with families in these villages and interviewed some GK coordinators and volunteers. But I did not realize how rewarding it was to be actually part of the effort until I actually joined the Gawad Kalinga Isang Milyong Bayani Bicol Challenge.
It was at a GK-Ateneo regular meeting that I learned about the event: April, just after Holy Week, outside Manila, somewhere in the Bicol Region. I immediately signed up.
On the day we left Manila, it became apparent to me that this was not going to be a casual hanging-out volunteer work. As my teammates and I loaded our tools onto the bus before departure—shovels, pickaxes, pails, brushes—that’s when I began to realize that something extraordinary was about to happen to me.
GK is a nationwide poverty-alleviation movement that relies heavily on volunteerism. It aims to build decent houses for people living in squatter areas and provide them with systematic assistance in order to get them out of squatter conditions—not only physically but mentally—and move to a better life, a life of hope and dignity.
The GK 1M Bayani Challenge is a yearly GK voluntary event when people from all over the country converge in a poverty-stricken place and work together for a week to build GK houses. Last year the Bayani Challenge was in Leyte, where many lives and homes had been lost in a devastating mudslide. This year the GK event was in Bicol, after typhoon Reming had wreaked havoc in the province.
When my teammates and I arrived in Bicol, I began to worry about the inconveniences that I expected to face. The heat, the scarcity of water, the absence of toilets, the rocky ground that we would have to sleep on, the canned food that would be our daily fare, and so on. But I gained strength from my teammates, and that kept me sane for the whole week.
I remembered sharing a meal with them. Fifteen of us had plain rice and three dishes: corned beef, corned beef and corned beef. Actually we decided to have only one dish but while cooking, we realized that the cans we brought were of different brands, so we thought it best not to mix them all together lest we end up with a weird-tasting dish.
I particularly recall that meal because when the cooking was done, no one ate or served himself first until every one of the team had come to the table. I did not know all of the other people’s names then, but immediately I felt that I was part of a team. When everyone was there, we introduced ourselves and ate together. We became a family even before we started to work.
The real challenge for me came when my teammates and I started building houses. I helped dig a deep hole in the ground for the septic tank, and lay the foundation for the houses. I mastered this most important equation: bricks + cement = a wall. I stood in a human chain passing along the bricks and trekked long distances to fetch water in two large barrels.
I endured all these physical challenges, exhausted but happy at the thought that I was doing something significant for other people. In only five days of work, I had helped build a small house that would transform a family’s life forever. It was a special kind of fulfillment I felt, knowing that I was helping people start a new life with dignity and full of hope.
The GK challenge was truly a unique experience for me. GK is an avenue offering hope for the people and for the country. Through this experience, I witnessed how people cooperated with one another to realize that hope. Although I had my share of low moments, especially during the strenuous physical work, I experienced great spiritual satisfaction.
The event also left me with fond memories of the people I had worked with. If preparing the first meal taught me a lot about “kapwa-tao,” the next four days taught me more. Whenever I wanted to wash my hands, there were people offering to pump water for me. When I asked around for sunblock, several would be thrown at me. All of the people were working effectively. Everyone was helping everyone else. Each was doing his best for a common goal.
Apart from this, I am astonished at the volunteerism and dedication of the people I have worked with. My initial exposure to the mostly privileged people in Ateneo had given me various misconceptions about them. After the Bicol Challenge, I realized that people living comfortable lives can actually go out of their comfort zones and be of help to other people in need. This realization has taught me so much, especially since I always thought that the rich and the poor are always in conflict with each other. Coming from a country that has infused that notion in me, I realized that it is not necessarily always true. It was through this experience that I got to appreciate the beauty of genuine service for others—people from all walks of life coming together, united for a good cause.
I really felt the warmth and dedication of the people around me during those days. And I began to wonder even then: is it the Ateneo way? The GK way? Or actually the Filipino way?
I am truly privileged to have encountered this beautiful side of the Filipino people, which unfortunately, some Filipinos have seem to have forgotten. The impressions I had or that had been given me—of inefficiency, corruption, indolence—about the people, have been mitigated with their warmth, kindness, generosity and service for others. I am just a foreigner invited to be part of this endeavor, but if I had been touched and inspired by the humanity of these people, how much more the Filipinos themselves? I am certain that all Filipinos can be more positive and be their own heroes for their own country.
This is how I want to remember the Philippines as I go back to my country. I don’t know how many times I have been asked why I chose Philippine Studies as my major. I have been asked why I want to study the Filipino language, since most people here speak English anyway. Even Filipinos themselves have asked why I am studying the Philippines when there is nothing interesting to learn about the country.
Despite my initial misgivings in college and such discouraging remarks from people, I realize that after having come, I am grateful that I made the choice to study the country. Gawad Kalinga is just one of the many remarkable lessons I learned and one of the most significant life-changing experiences I had in this country. I am proud to be surrounded by these people whom I consider my real-life heroes. Most importantly, I really appreciate these Filipinos, who have taught me so much and have inspired me to bring out the hero in me.

1 comment:

Edward said...

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