August 7, 2013 | 9:25 A.M. | Imus, Cavite, Philippines
What. A. Day! Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend Gawad Kalinga’s monthly General Assembly and team meetings in Mandaluyong City. I took a tricycle from my Aunty’s house to the McDonald’s in front of LTO in Cavite City where I met up Tito Mandy– only to find out it would be almost impossible to catch a bus ride to our destination due to the heavy rush hour traffic (and it being the first day of rerouting for buses coming from the provinces into Metro Manila). But I was ready for anything! As we waited and saw each bus pass by looking like a can of sardines, we eventually decided to take the long way, which consisted of 4 jeepney rides, 1 MRT ride, and brisk walking in between until we finally reached Mandaluyong City Hall. It took about 2 hours total and boy oh boy was it a workout! The MRT reminded me of the BART from back home in the Bay Area… nostalgia. When we finally reached City Hall (with an additional 3 flights of stairs to put the cherry on top of our commute), the General Assembly was just beginning so we were right on time (aka Filipino time saves us all once again)!
The General Assembly opened up with an opening prayer along with a couple songs for praise and worship. Then the GK team started with the Marketing Update, which included the encouragement of sharing their latest video celebrating their 10th year, “Disco Hopes”– an inspiring story of Mang Disco who lived in a cemetery for 30 years until Gawad Kalinga lifted their community out of despair and into a village full of hope, promise, and a physical living situation that could truly be called a home. All GK beneficiaries have different stories behind how they came to live in their respective GK villages, but Mang Disco’s unusual story truly gives purpose to the neverending work and charity of Gawad Kalinga. I personally encourage everyone to watch this video as it does speak for itself:
To continue the Monthly Update, there were different slides on the different accomplishments throughout the GK sites, including turnovers for Typhoon Pablo survivors and San Remigio, Antique and the groundbreaking of Kalinga Intramuros Village. After the updates, the emcee played a game that involved guessing the word pasted on the player’s forehead, which originated from the popular Filipino game show, “Eat Bulaga”– an icebreaker I’m very familiar with here in the states. Then they had sort of a keynote speaker portion where “sharer” Dylan Wilk– CEO of Human Nature (Gandang Kalikasan, Inc.)– told his story of how he came to be involved in Gawad Kalinga and Human Nature. He had grown up in a poor family in England– the “poor” not having the same meaning as it does in the Philippines. His story was both inspiring and motivational: wanting to sell his riches from becoming a businessman to give to Gawad Kalinga but instead moving to the Philippines to work for GK– seeing poverty up close and working with Filipinos first-hand. Realizing that had he been born into a poor family in the Philippines, he could have been just like the boys he saw on the street who chose to buy drugs that lessened the burning hunger in their stomachs– at a price cheaper than rice. Another realization came to him after buying a meal for some youth at a nearby Jollibee (where he had to pay the guard P20 just to let the kids inside) when one of the girls he had bought a meal for hadn’t finished her food. He asked– wasn’t she still hungry? And the girl replied saying she was, but that she had a mother and siblings– that she wanted to share this meal with them. Wilk was in awe at this and realized this mentality is what makes Filipinos so special– no matter how poor, no matter how much they are without– they still put their family first. Most Filipinos may not be rich in money or material things, but they are rich in the love and care they give to one another. This same girl had tears pouring down her face– confused as to why this stranger wanted to buy her and her friends a meal. She thought the stranger was going to rape her because in her mind– in this society– that would be the only valid reason. In all her years of begging on the street, no one had ever offered to buy her a meal.
Dylan Wilk’s story continues today as the son-in-law of GK Founder Tony Meloto and the husband to Anna Meloto-Wilk who conjured up the idea of Human Nature– a social enterprise of Philippine-made products with Philippine-grown ingredients from the Gawad Kalinga villages. Many of their employees come from the GK villages and are paid a very competitive wage (P750 versus the standard minimum wage of P440). To learn more, here’s the video presentation:
After the General Assembly ended, I met Ate Cathy Morga (from the Southern Luzon team) and the Volunteer Coordinator, Ate Aysa Oquinena. I had lunch at Mang Inaasal with other volunteers, researchers, and the GK Team. I met Franzi and Hannah, both students visiting from Germany; Franzi is helping at one of the Sibol schools while Hannah is teaching gymnastics! At GK Headquarters, each regional team had their team meeting while I met with some of the Ates and Kuyas to plan the GK Youth Summit program (happening on September 28th). The event expects 1,000 students from various colleges across the Philippines who are involved with volunteer work at their respective GK villages. This weekend, I will be attending a GK Youth camp with students from Santa Cecilia in Valenzuela City– I’m so excited!!! In regards to the GK Youth Summit program, I will be helping the Creative Director, Kuya Emong, with his planning, which includes choreographing a dance to teach to the entire summit! 🙂 Afterwards, I had a meeting with Ate Aysa; she checked in on how I was doing and how my dance program was going. We also talked about ways to empower the older youth, especially the “dalaga.” Because GK usually focuses on the men of the village, sometimes the young women don’t know their place and thus, remain the background. We had a very productive discussion and I hope to create a “girl talk” discussion circle where the “dalaga” (young women) of GK Alapan– several who are already part of my dance program– can have a safe space to talk about issues in their community and be more active in their roles as young women in their GK village.
There’s so much to do! There’s so much I still want to do but only have about a week left working in my GK village… HERE’S TO DOING AS MUCH AS I CAN and leaving the youth with as many tools and skills as possible before I have to leave!!!