Towards A Kinder, Fairer, Safer, Happier World in 2050
GK Founder Tony Meloto (L) orients PINOY Publisher Anong Santos (2nd fr. L) and UP professors Elmer & Diana Ferrer,and Mila de Guzman. He talked about the new silkworm social enterpreneur project and dormitory building initiated by Chicago area GK advocates led by Almira Gilles and Jan Paul Ferrer.
By Antonio Meloto
Gawad Kalinga Founder
(This is Part II of the article, Part 1 was in the February 2015 issue)
It's a Huge Challenge!!
Many people see a decaying world full of overwhelming threats: super typhoons like Haiyan that devastate vast territories due to climate change, growing unemployment in developed countries, legalized greed in the financial system that participate in increasing inequality. A feeling of injustice and powerlessness prevails as institutionalized corruption deters growth in many resource-rich countries, inter-religious fanaticism sows seeds of conflict, and international institutions fail to curb these threats.
It's a wonder to many why the Philippine economy is booming, despite its recurring catastrophes. In 2014, it was second only to China in GDP growth in Asia.
In one quarter in 2013, the Philippine's GDP was in fact trending higher until Haiyan ravaged the country with such devastating force, destroying lives and property, and set back economic growth forecasts. But we are an emerging economy with a hardy people who are now awake and ready to rise again every time we fall. We are using our energy and resources to bring the bottom up, with many social enterprises that are determined to create wealth that does not leave the weak and powerless behind to remain in poverty.
It's about a change of heart!
Yes, finally! More of our countrymen are awake to the reality that we are a resource-rich country that does not have any excuse to remain poor, that we have remained poor simply because we keep leaving the poor behind. We have lost our greatest treasure, our talent pool and asset - our people - turning them into threats, liabilities and mere objects of charity. Majority of them have languished at the base of the pyramid because of our neglect and abandonment.
The streets will not be safe for our family, and there will be fewer opportunities for our children in our country if we do not cultivate a culture of caring and sharing that includes the poor as our family.
It's rising from victimhood.
The Philippines is showing the world how it is turning tragedy into opportunity. Adversity has developed resiliency, tenacity and solidarity in the Filipino for shared protection in a survival environment and a stronger resolve in the general population to rise out of historical victimhood. This resoluteness may just be the necessary strength of character we need as a people whose economy is on the verge of a take-off. It is about rising together so no one will stay a victim of fate or perpetuate a poverty mentality.
A classic case in point is the recent typhoon this December, Hagupit (locally codenamed Ruby), which was touted as another Haiyan in strength before it hit landfall in exactly the same provinces in Central Philippines. It was déjà vu for the residents who were still reeling from the unprecedented devastation of such a massive force of destruction as Haiyan. But this time they knew better. Evacuation for hundreds of thousands in vulnerable areas went like clockwork; government, NGOs, business, schools, church, and media coordinated, cooperated, collaborated like they had never done before. In the end there was minimal loss of lives - with heaven's cooperation, as the super typhoon turned into a tropical depression when it hit landfall.
Yes, it can be done!
On the part of Gawad Kalinga, it was a test of our capacity to build typhoon-proof homes and raise empowered citizens in our intentional communities. In the year after Haiyan, we built 3,000 homes in 33 towns in sites that have passed geo-hazard assessment as safe for human dwelling, with access to clean water and land for food sufficiency. Our communities did not only give a sense of well-being to our residents who were past victims themselves, they also became sanctuaries and evacuation centers for the hapless neighbors who were still living in flimsy shanties in vulnerable areas. Many GK residents took in an average of 3 families in their brand new two story homes with wind-proof roofs for them to weather out the storm together. The beneficiaries of human kindness have become benefactors themselves. Former victims have become a lifeline to others who are still in need.
It's in the Attitude!
This is how our ragtag army views the world. A positive attitude to life is something that no one can steal from us. Responding by doing more good when bad things are done to us makes us bigger and stronger. The joy of caring and giving far outweighs the pain of hating and losing.
Finding hope in the worst person.
Gawad Kalinga started as a social experiment to understand and find solutions to poverty by building intentional communities. Of over 2,000 mostly male gang members, drug dependents and juvenile delinquents that we helped rehabilitate in the biggest slum in the Philippines, Bagong Silang, from 1996 to 2003 during the beginnings of GK, many went back to school and took on regular jobs and now live productive lives. Our two area coordinators for the reconstruction sites for Haiyan survivors in Central Philippines were these former gang members. They have since finished college, are now married and living with their young family in homes that they helped build. They also have the confidence to deal with governors, mayors and volunteers, and organize training and oversee the construction of safe homes and sea-worthy boats.
What is particularly unique in our grassroots approach is that we take deliberate effort to attract the men. Most philanthropy and BOP development initiatives - microfinance, microenterprise, programs for health and education - cater to women, because they are the usual victims or the less empowered, and the more compliant in many societies like Bangladesh, India and many African countries. Our strategy within the Philippine context is to include the men - who are often the cause of crime, conflict, domestic violence - to be part of the solutions to the problems that they cause. We build homes, schools, water systems and farms which attract the men to participate and undergo our skills training and intensive values formation in community building. Many of them develop not only competencies but most importantly, confidence, self-respect and the motivation to find work. Former idle men and drunkards become productive and responsible members of their neighborhood. The transformation that we see in our communities with a holistic and inclusive gender strategy is more dramatic and lasting.
Seeing beauty in the ugliest slums.
Gawad Kalinga caught the imagination of the world when we turned squalid and troubled urban slums in many parts of the Philippines and Jakarta in Indonesia into beautiful and peaceful communities, with colorful homes and landscaped gardens done by the residents themselves. We discovered our collective power to raise our low self-image by building beautiful communities that restored human dignity, slum after slum, town after town.
It takes but a slight shift in perspective to see the potential, and the commitment, particularly of those privileged with education and resources, for the potential to be realized: to behold the poor as human, deserving of decent homes with toilet and clean water, and as gems, not dirt, whose luster and true value will emerge when polished with persevering love that does not easily give up on them because the task is not often easy.
Beyond transforming slums, our focus is countryside development, creating social enterprises in the rural areas that will enhance food security, generate work for our farmers and educate their children so we can reduce migration to the city.
Discovering power in the most ordinary.
Our communities are built by everyday heroes, many of them ordinary volunteers who do not have claim to power or wealth. They are driven by an extraordinary desire to make a difference, to live a life with purpose, to prove to themselves that the world will be better because they are in it.
The core teams in many of our reconstruction sites were former victims themselves of previous typhoons. In a pay-it-forward spirit, they are most effective in caring for survivors because they understand their pain and fears.
The people running our more mature communities are the residents themselves, providing good governance to preserve peace and order, and creating a support system to raise their families on sound values and goals. Many of our communities are now rising middle-class neighborhoods.
Cultivating sacrifice as love in action.
Ordinary people can lead extraordinary lives simply by their capacity to sacrifice for the good of the other.
And Filipinos are no stranger to sacrifice when you consider the millions of my compatriots working in places as far as Alaska, torn away from their spouses and young children and braving perils to physical safety and emotional well-being, just so they can provide for their loved ones many time zones away.
It is with this same spirit that Gawad Kalinga steadily came about and gained the trust of many supporters. Sacrifice not for the sake of martyrdom but for the joy of service. Cultivating a culture of sacrifice through perseverance and commitment to serve is surprisingly not a difficult undertaking. We discovered that people are inherently loving. And when they have the opportunity to demonstrate their love and witness the fruits of their sacrifice, they get to experience joy, receiving encouragement to love some more.
Proof of Concept
With all the problems in the world, why am I so upbeat?
It is not that I am blind to the ugliness in life. It is just that I prefer to see the hidden beauty or the boundless opportunities and possibilities that are just waiting to be uncovered and unleashed. In fact, it is hard to stay pessimistic after journeying with Gawad Kalinga. What is impossible if gang leaders can turn into nation-builders? What is unfeasible when 2,500 communities can be turned from violent slums and rebel-infested countryside into beautiful and peaceful villages in just a decade?
We have enough proof of concept to tell the world it can be done.
It's about doing the unfeasible
When we started this journey, we did not have a miraculous antidote. We only had our dreams and our hands. We were just a bunch of crazy guys that refused to leave the poor behind. Who would have thought that ten years later, one million people would be joining us on this journey out of poverty?
Now we are targeting to raise 500,000 social entrepreneurs by 2024 in 25 Farm Village Universities we are building nation-wide.
These results were brought to life thanks to the power of radical optimism, the miracles of solidarity and the spirit of caring and sharing.
(To be concluded in the May issue)