Tony Meloto, the guiding spirit of Gawad Kalinga, is a good storyteller. Last Wednesday he told some stories at the reception given by the Philippine Daily Inquirer to honor him as the newspaper’s Filipino of the Year 2006. They were inspiring stories, moving stories—so inspiring and so moving that they brought some of his listeners close to tears.
Those who think that our nation is hopeless and will forever remain stuck in the mire of poverty, helplessness and despair should listen to him. Or better yet, join him in his endeavor to correct some of the social and economic inequities in our nation.
Meloto told the story of Filipinos abroad who are coming back to help or are contributing funds to help build Gawad Kalinga villages in the Philippines. He told stories about some “crazy people," like two former top business executives who left high-paying jobs to take up key positions in Gawad Kalinga. He told the story of a “crazy New Zealander" who quit a high-paying marketing and IT job to help out in GK.
He recounted the story of his son-in-law, the millionaire Dylan Wilk, who left a life of ease and comfort in Great Britain to help raise funds for the construction of houses for the poor. He told the story of his own children who quit good jobs in big corporations to help their father with his project.
At the reception, Meloto’s own story was recounted. A marketing executive, he experienced his “epiphany" in 1985 when he joined the Couples for Christ. It was an encounter that changed his vision and priorities. He brought the Couples for Christ to Negros Occidental province and helped put up the CFC Family Ministries in 1993. Two years later he launched an anti-poverty program in Bagong Silang, Cavite, which evolved into what is now known as Gawad Kalinga, which means “to give care."
The mission of the movement is to empower communities and improve the living conditions of slum dwellers. With the help of Couples for Christ, Meloto transformed Bagong Silang into the first Gawad Kalinga Village and built decent houses for the community.
One of the conditions for Gawad Kalinga’s projects is that while beneficiaries don’t have to pay for their new homes, they must help the volunteers who build them. This concept prevents beneficiaries from developing an attitude of mendicancy and dependence. It illustrates the saying that “God helps those who help themselves," and it helps in the formation of strong, self-reliant families.
Gawad Kalinga draws sponsors from expatriate Filipinos, civic organizations, schools, government agencies and big corporations. Aside from building houses, it also takes care of the health, educational and livelihood needs of the villages.
Today there are 1,400 Gawad Kalinga villages and the movement has set a goal of building 700,000 houses in 7,000 communities in 7 years, with 2010 as the target date for delivery. Landowners, businessmen, big corporations are donating land. Gawad Kalinga has an army of 200,000 volunteers, a force that is much bigger than the Armed Forces of the Philippines, which is 130,000 strong.
Many Filipinos have been complaining about the economic and social situation in their country. They say that there seems to be no hope for their nation, that it will not be able to rise from the despond of poverty and despair.
But they should take heart from the words of a new American philanthropist, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, whose foundation has spent $8 billion in 12 years for world health programs and US education. In a recent speech at Harvard, Gates said: “[H]umanity’s greatest advances are not in its discoveries -- but in how those discoveries are applied to reduce inequity. Whether through democracy, strong public education, quality health care, or broad economic opportunity -- reducing inequity is the highest human achievement."
Meloto has the same idea. With his Gawad Kalinga, he is trying to reduce social and economic inequity in many areas in our country. And while helping the poor rise from their poverty, he is moving them from charity to genuine Christian stewardship. He is one Filipino who is not taking the usual recourse of cursing the darkness. He has lighted a candle that will help banish the darkness.
The Gawad Kalinga concept, replicated thousands of times all over the country, may yet be one answer to the problem of poverty that has kept millions of people locked in its pitiless vise.
Tuesday, 3 July 2007