Monday, June 16, 2008

People helping people, the Gawad Kalinga way

“In the United States, no Filipino became homeless or a beggar. Filipinos did not build squatter communities here,” so said Gawad Kalinga’s Tony Meloto.

Behind these two statements is the development and prosperity key that enabled Filipinos in the United States to have the second highest per capita income of all Asian-American groups. Fil-Ams are the largest source of remittances to the Philippines. They are, in essence, the embodiment of the American dream.

How did they do this?

Simply, they live and progressed in the right environment.

GK Poveda Village, Taguig City 2007

Filipinos need an environment where they can meet their basic physical needs, live in security and dignity, and become the best they can be. Anthropologists call this the household livelihood security framework. It is about having the resources to make the right choices.

In the United States, despite the country’s historical problems with discrimination, Filipinos have prospered because their talents and hard work are appreciated. They are paid well enough to buy a house, support their families, invest, and earn more.

The good infrastructure facilitates moving around, doing business, and enhances communication, and information gathering. In the United States you can make things happen faster and hence, get results quicker.

In general, the law is straightforward and followed. Among ordinary Americans, a handshake agreement is kept because one’s name is sacred. This makes business relatively safe and secure.

In the United States, if you’ve fallen into hard times or need a start in life, you can access educational, health, job support, even monetary assistance. People and institutions are there to help. All you have to do is ask.

The strategy looks simple, but it took decades of discussion, conflict, trial and error, painful experiences, and deep reflection. Today, the United States is the most prosperous country in the world (despite current difficulties).

The poorest of the poor are just like you and me. They have dreams and aspirations for a better life for themselves and their families. They are survivors. With the right environment, they can blossom, like any Filipino or American. They have an innate potential to do good, become even better persons, and can be an asset to the Philippines.

All they need is the right environment.

Again Gawad Kalinga’s Tony Meloto:

“The saying,’Give someone fish and he will continue to ask for fish; but teach someone to fish and he will fish for himself’ is not true in the Philippine setting. The poor know already how to fish, but they ain’t fishing! We need to change the environment for the poor to become God’s perfect creation.”

We need an environment where institutions work, things are predictable, and where hard work, talent, and persistence are rewarded. Sharing and caring are also needed in smoothing out the rough edges of capitalism and competition. A sustainable economy is one where people can be the best they can be, while the vulnerable are protected and nurtured to independence. Freedom and responsibility form the two sides of the development coin.

Gawad Kalinga is shortcutting the U.S. development model. By building 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities, in seven years, Gawad Kalinga seeks to spur five million of the poorest Filipinos out of extreme poverty. The massive and ambitious home building goal generates the economies of scale to tackle the seemingly insurmountable problem of poverty. It creates an environment of on-the-job training, cooperation, sharing and caring, and an economic multiplier effect. It channels resources to fighting poverty without the draining effects of corruption, graft, and red tape.

To spur institution building, Gawad Kalinga communities are supported by a seven point ON-SITE community development program that includes: (1) site and shelter development, (2) community organization/Kapitbahayan and values transformation, (3) community-based health program, (4) child and youth development, (5) economic productivity, (6) environment, and (7) a Mabuhay/ welcome program.

Only a holistic program that develops the individual, family, and community will succeed in building strong institutions in the Philippines. Only organized, principled, and economically and environmentally sustainable communities can survive and withstand the vagaries of Philippine politics, poverty, inequality, and social exclusion.

With 1,700 communities established since its launching in 2003, more than half a million poor Filipinos are enjoying their own colorfully painted homes amidst a safe, secure, and happy community. They are beginning to access education, health, training, livelihood, and capacity-building services.

More needs to be done and more poor Filipinos need to be helped. Why wait for an armed revolution or a breakdown in society to change, when there is an alternative way based on love, sharing and caring, and padugo- bleeding for the cause literally in blood, sweat, and tears?

Gawad Kalinga, meaning to give care, is building God’s Kingdom here on earth.

Join us in this journey.

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