Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Walking in their shoes: The 3rd Annual Gawad Kalinga Walk

"I got you on my back"

Walking is one trait that distinguishes man from other species. By standing upright and walking on our two feet we are able to see farther, travel longer distances, interact, use our hands for other things, discover, and learn new things. Human society is based on language (the ability to communicate and think) and, as the late French anthropologist André Leroi-Gourhan observed, the ability to walk. We walk to get around, stay fit, and relax.

For Gawad Kalinga, walking is one way of being one with the poor.

Last September 6, 2008, 28 cities in the United States and Canada participated simultaneously in the 3rd Annual Gawad Kalinga Walk led by GK’s Maggie Villanueva. This five kilometer walk sought to bring together Fil-Am communities in North America in a solidarity walk for the poor. The GK Walk generated greater awareness of the community development and nation building model of Gawad Kalinga (GK). GK provides Fil-Am communities with a meaningfully way to take up the cause of nation building via loving, sharing, and caring for the poor.

GK Walk also sought to inculcate the uniquely Filipino cultural trait of “bayanihan”- family and friends getting together to achieve something. This entails a foundation of friendship, trust, and cooperation. Walking with one another and for the poor enabled us to make new friends, spend time with each other, and get the family together in something noble and patriotic.

GK Walk Tucson

In Tucson, Arizona, with barely a month of preparation, the Fil-Am community got together for Gawad Kalinga for the first time. Close to 80 persons got up early on a Saturday morning and headed out to the beautiful Gene S. Reid Park in central Tucson to walk for the poor and for friendship. The successful walk in Tucson is significant, because it is quite difficult to get Fil-Ams together on an early Saturday morning to walk five kilometers in this high desert city of 350-sunny-days a year, during a scorching summer. Since Tucson is sprawling, it is also hard to get an agreement on where to hold community activities.

They came for Gawad Kalinga however. Fil-Am groups such as the Philippine Mabuhay Cultural Foundation , the Filipino-American Sampaguita Club of Tucson (FASCOT), the Fil-Am Club of Southern Arizona (FILAMCSAZ), and the Filipino-American Students Association of the University of Arizona (FASA) came together for the first time in a very long time for the GK Walk. We had representatives from at least two charismatic prayer groups and a Filipino priest to bless the participants. FILAMCSAZ members drove 80 miles just to join the walk. A picnic followed the walk with Pinoy Fast Food providing the pancit bihon.

Jessica Cox, a FASA alumnus, the first woman without arms to fly a plane solo, and motivational speaker, led the walk on her recumbent bike. Dr. Avelino Leal of FASCOT escorted her. When you have someone like Jessica and a health buff doctor leading, you end up walking more than five kilometers. I think they were training the participants for the GK Hero's Run (a marathon event)!

Jessica Cox leads the GK Walk in Tucson, Az

In other participating cities, GK Chicago stalwarts Robby and Donna Reyes reported 82 registered walkers and about 150 total attendees. They along with the GK folks in central Illinois led by the indefatigable Dr. Charlie Capati raised a significant amount of money for the GK programs. Panera Bread provided breakfast. They also had another six major sponsors.

Chicago GK Walk. Photo by Dr. C. Capati

In New Jersey, Beth Macaraeg reported that the inclement weather did not deter the walkers. In Tampa, Florida, GK lead Jess Roa noted that the gorgeous weather brought out more than 150 participants including the Associated Filipino Students of University of South Florida. In Boston, Eugene and Evita Florendo reported close to 200 walkers along the beautiful Charles River. They even had an ati-atihan group. They were blessed because their prayers for a stop to the rains and good weather materialized. They were also quite successful in their fundraising.

GK Walk, New Jersey. Photo by Joseph V. Tieng

The Oregon and Seattle GK Walks were well attended. They even had a multimedia presentation on GK and breakfast before the walk. In Milipitas, San Jose, GK point person Alfred Keen reported over 300 total participants despite the 100F temperature.

GK Walk, Seattle. Photo by Melissa

I estimate from 2,800-5,600 joined the GK Walk in the 28 cities in the United States and Canada. Also, quite a significant amount of money was raised. The unquantifiable benefits though, which are priceless, are the conversations held and the friendships newly forged. Fil-Ams are a busy people. A lot of them work at least two jobs, with many doing overtime. Doctors and nurses do extra shifts and are on-call. Most are truly devoted to their families and are active in church and prayer groups. Fil-Am students are busy themselves. Nearly all of them have a full-time school load and work at the same time. On top of this busy schedule are their club and socio-civic activities.

Holy Redeemer Charistmatic Prayer Group

All were happy with the turn out, the diversity of the participants, and the opportunity to socialize with fellow Fil-Ams. The GK Walk showed that Fil-Am groups can get together for the country and for the poor. Already, the walk has led to further networking. The four Filipino priests in Tucson led by Fr. Miguel Mariano and Fr. Les Niez have gotten the Fil-Am groups together to a organize big Christmas dinner of at least 600 Fil-Ams, their families, and friends with the intended beneficiaries being Gawad Kalinga and a seminary in the Philippines. FASCOT wants FASA to help them in manning the Filipino booth in the annual and wildly successful get-to-know-your-neighbor festival, Tucson Meet Yourself.

Filipino-American Students Association, University of Arizona

The GK Walk preparations enabled me to meet the different Fil-Am groups in Tucson. The FASA students were a joy to talk to and work with because of their energy. It’s hard not to be proud that many of them are in cutting edge studies such as biosystems engineering, microbiology, and optical sciences among others. Rev. Virgilio "Jojo" Tabo, Jr. of Our Mother of Sorrows Parish walked the Walk with us and gave the blessings. I even attended a few prayer meetings. In one prayer meeting, I got to meet and hear the insightful talk of new Filipino priest Rev. Mario V. "Ricky" Ordoñez.

Mrs. Inez Cox and Fr. Jojo Tabo

It was Fr. Ricky who inspired us with his advice on prayer;

“Make every breath, a prayer of thanksgiving.”

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