Saan Ka Nakatira? Ano ang ginagawa mo? Where do you live? What do you do?
These two questions define who you are and what your identity is. These two questions either bring you confidence or shame, hope or despondency, contentment or anger. “I live in (fill in the blanks) and I am the father/mother/brother/sister/son/daughter of (fill in the blanks). I am a (fill in the blanks)” define who you are on so many levels, be it gender, class, status, or other cultural markers of age education, and, work. As E. F. Schumacher noted, work enables man to develop and use his talents to meet his needs in a way that builds community and solidarity. The poor though have neither a voice nor a stake in society because they don’t have meaningful work that meets their needs.
Imagine if you were an informal dweller, derisively called a squatter, living a hand-to-mouth existence, with many children, little or no education, no job or underemployed, and in debt. What are your chances of improving your family’s situation in this lifetime? What can you do? Who can you run to for help? Who can actually help you?
What if there at least 2.5 million of you in a metropolitan area? What kinds of conditions do you and your family live in? How do you cope and survive? What options do you have? Multiply this with numerous cities in a country and in every country and you have what sociologist Mike Davis calls the making of a “planet of slums.”
The twin problems of poverty and homelessness, according to Gawad Kalinga’s Tony Meloto, are so massive that neither government nor the private sector can solve it alone. Government and the private sector must come together, along with each and every Filipino, to discover new ways of addressing the causes of poverty in ways that are sustainable, equitable, and which build solidarity.
Unsquatting “squatters” is a good entry point in this endeavor. By building homes for them, we rebuild the lives of the poorest of the poor. The dignity of the homeless is restored and he and his family have a secure place to improve the family situation. “Squatters” pay more for basic utilities because of the legal uncertainty they are in. Helping slum dwellers with housing, values transformation, community organizing, health, education, environment, and productivity programs empower them and make them productive members of society. This is what Gawad Kalinga is about.
Coming together requires a setting where friendships can be made. These friendships form the basis for a long-term relationship built on trust, cooperation, sharing, and caring. This context is important because if it is conducive to friendship, then hurts can be healed, faults acknowledged, wrongs forgiven, and changes made. If the rich and poor, powerful and powerless, come together in friendship, then change is possible in the context of “less for self, more for others, enough for all.” This enabling environment for community development is what we all desire.
Many Filipinos and Fil-Ams made the great escape from poverty, graft, corruption, and a generation-long dictatorship in the Philippines to become successful. Either they migrated and made it or they bunkered down and succeeded in a harsh environment. They now need to come together if they want to see a Philippines that is progressive and equitable; a Philippines that is secure, prosperous, and opportunity-laden for their children. They can make it happen. As Gawad Kalinga has been able to provide this enabling environment, Fil-Ams and Fil-Canadians have been coming together and have so far funded 323 of the over 1,000 GK Villages in the Philippines.
On September 6, 2008, Saturday, 26 cities in the United States and Canada will hold the 3rd Annual GK Walk with a theme of ONE Continent, ONE Cause, ONE step closer to eradicating poverty. The GK Walk seeks to generate greater awareness of the GK movement of caring for the poorest of the poor. It seeks to build solidarity and community among the estimated four million Fil-Ams, Fil-Canadians and their American and Canadian friends and relatives. It also seeks to encourage participation in the GK One Million Bayani (GK1MB) and GK Village Builder corps of volunteers/partners.
To be able to help the poor, we must first become friends to one another.
What better way to start it than through a healthy walk followed by a fiesta picnic?