What I Learned from my Experience with Gawad Kalinga
We are often taught that a premise to being grateful for the life we have should coincide with the fact that there are others in the world with far less than what we have or live a reality with far worse circumstances than we could ever imagine. However, this belief creates a negative construct that deprives us of the thought and manifestation of what should actually be realised: we should be grateful for the life we have, simply because it is great.
This is what I learnt from my experience with Gawad Kalinga.
In January 2016, myself, along with over ten other youth members and family members, ventured out to the Philippines on an outreach program. We left Australia with excitement and anticipation for the days to come, knowing that we were becoming facilitators in creating positive change in the world.
We assisted in the preparation of food at Kusina ng Kalinga, which we later distributed to students at Toro Hills Elementary School. The hour was early, with many of us having little sleep from the night before; the kitchen was clustered with a number of people, creating a very busy atmosphere in light of the hot weather; and the chopping of ingredients and packaging of food were ongoing. However, despite all this, we received a reward that exceeded all discomfort we may have endured: the sight of the smiles on the children’s faces. It was then that we knew that all our efforts were more than worth it; it was then that we realised that the simple gesture of handing a meal to a child was more than enough for them. Each interaction with each and every child we met sparked a whole sense of joy and a whole sense of purpose, as though there were no feeling better in the world than what was felt in that exact moment.
After spending time with the children, we said our goodbyes and proceeded to the Del Rosario-Cox GK Village in Payatas, Quezon City where we met some of the locals. We sat in a room lined with multiple chairs and listened as stories were told and conversations were exchanged. We were offered a vast array of different Filipino foods and enjoyed the afternoon in an atmosphere that felt like home. In the midst of all this, I remember a moment so vividly: I looked around and saw on the far side of the room, a young girl of around 7-years’-old standing in front of the window. As I moved closer, I noticed that beyond that window were mountains of trash, which we had earlier learned to have previously been home to many of the members of the GK community. In that moment I saw hope and aspiration in the eyes of the young girl; I saw not sadness or despair, nor grief or anger; I saw a girl with a vision of the world so pure, as though she were ready to take on any forthcoming challenge to reach and exceed her fullest potential. I will never forget that moment.
Our next destination was the Human Nature Commonwealth branch, a social enterprise established by Camille Meloto, Anna-Meloto-Wilk (both daughters of Gawad Kalinga founder, Tony Meloto) and Dylan Wilk. Human Nature places its core values on being pro-Philippines, pro-poor and pro-environment. What I found most phenomenal, simultaneous with their 100% chemical-free products and the sourcing of their materials from the earth, was their commitment to their employees. They hire employees who have met poverty and hold a “no firing” policy whereby they assist in the employee’s continued growth, despite any difficulties they may endure throughout the process of their employment. Human Nature has been internationally-recognised and continues to thrive, as they transform lives in their mission to end poverty.
The following three days exceeded all my expectations. We attended the 2016 Gawad Kalinga Social Business Summit at the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Bulacan, where we networked with other likeminded youth and individuals from all over the world. Each morning we woke in the early hours, rode a jeepney to the farm, then had breakfast surrounded by a hub of motivated individuals. We attended talks and seminars run by different entrepreneurs, learning about enterprises including MAD Travel, Plush n Play, and Bayani Brew to name a few. One afternoon, we stumbled upon what was known as the Bamboo Palace, a structure made entirely of bamboo that overlooked a beautiful mass of greenery, occupied by horses and cows, in front of mountains that rose in the distance. As I took in all the beauty before me, I became astounded by the vast array of resources this country had, each speck of land holding so much potential; I became astounded by Gawad Kalinga’s advocacy to make full use of the land and make full use of all these resources in order to alleviate poverty. The Social Business Summit opened my eyes to the capacity social businesses have in creating change in the lives of those in poverty, restoring their dignity and bridging the gap between the rich and the poor by allowing the rich and the poor to work side by side by using the resources they already have.
Following the closing remarks on the final day, our group made our next venture to the GK St Joseph Village in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. Our days in the village were incomparable to anything I’d ever experienced. Here we worked alongside the locals, many of which were middle-aged, and assisted in the building of additional houses in the community. The days were long, the work was physically and mentally straining, and the heat was close to unbearable. However, all the discomfort and difficulty subsided when we found ourselves surrounded by children so full of life and love. We danced, we sung karaoke, and we played a number of games. Despite our accumulated fatigue, our spirits were kept high because of these children. On the final day of work, I encountered a young girl I will never forget. Her name was Krystal. As I was walking towards the building site, she stopped me and asked, “Ate Jhanae, can you sing with me?” I didn’t hesitate in accepting her request. With my camera in hand and her by my side, we sung. Her voice was beautiful. I asked her, “do you want to be a singer?” She responded with hopeful eyes, “yes.” This encounter changed my perception of the world and my understanding of opportunity. It hurt to know that simply because she lived in an impoverished community, so distant from the stages she hoped to share her talent, she was unable to pursue her dream of becoming a singer; simply because she was not exposed to opportunities as such, she felt unable to pursue her dream, despite possessing a voice so beautiful it will leave you in tears. It’s children like Krystal who inspire me every day and instil a passion in me for everything that I do, to continue to facilitate positive change in the world.
Since the outreach program, the Gawad Kalinga Perth group has been determined to create change in the lives of those we helped and those in similar circumstances; through fundraisers and charity events, we have exercised our capacity to do more for those in the Philippines through whatever means possible.
For my 21st birthday, after promising I’d return, I, along with family, visited the GK St Joseph Village in Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. Here I pursued my “21 for 21” project, where I distributed 21 gifts to 21 randomly-selected families. Such gifts included basic necessities including rice and canned foods, school materials including books, pens and pencils, and clothing and accessories donated by friends and family. We were welcomed with smiles and humbled greetings and returning felt like coming home to a place my heart will forever remain. The joyous nature among the people that I had remembered, did not subside over the span of one year. The visit was short, but the experience and the joy felt will transcend years and years to come.
Before my journey with Gawad Kalinga I had been told that I would gain a greater appreciation for the life I had because those I’d be helping had far less than I. However, my appreciation for the life I have, came in no such form: each encounter I had throughout the course of the outreach program and my overall journey with Gawad Kalinga had shown me the simplicity of life and how beautiful such simplicity was, being made joyful as a result of the little things. Children would cluster together to look at a ball the size of a 50c coin because they found joy in it; the community members would smile and laugh by simply working alongside them; and no matter how little food they had, they would always be willing to give so much more to you. Life should not be seen as being comparative to those of others and we should not find appreciation or joy through the realisation that others lack more than us: our life is good simply because it is good, and that is what Gawad Kalinga has taught me.