Social changes per political scientist Karol Soltan (1996) are large scale, require revolution or extensive institutional reform, and have pervasive and long term societal consequences. Several social movements worldwide, working with the bottom of the pyramid or the poorest of the poor, claim success in social change. Some social movements are spurring social change by inspiring it, and addressing poverty via massive mobilization of people, resources, technology, and skills, as well as developing strong community relationships. Many have replicated and are “scalable” globally.
Social movements are commonly associated with contestations against the state, the powerful, and dominant cultural codes. The focus of analysis on their effectiveness has been on the strategic use of conflict of varying degrees. However, modeling best practices, social justice, and transformational engagement with power holders in housing, environment, livelihood, education, and human rights sectors, among others, are strategies and core principles of a number of social movements that have replicated and scaled up. One such movement is Gawad Kalinga, which seems to be reconceptualizing social movements beyond collective action in conflict settings.
Before Gawad Kalinga, the Catholic charismatic movement called Couples for Christ (CFC) began ministering to out-of-school youth and gang members in the mid-1990s. As an evangelistic and missionary movement, CFC’s work with the youth was one of several initiatives in conjunction with its Seven Pillars, namely; evangelization and missionary work, pastoral support, strengthening of the family, promotion of social justice and human development, Gawad Kalinga, promoting and defending life, and special ministries.
It was not easy. CFC’s Tony Meloto, the public face and spiritual founder of Gawad Kalinga, and his then young daughters were rudely greeted and threatened when they first sought to start the youth program in the slum relocation site of Bagong Silang, Caloocan City. It took a lot of prayers, effort, and time spent in Bagong Silang before they could establish a relationship based on friendship, trust, and mutual assistance. Bagong Silang is a failed government-initiated relocation site. In fact, it is the biggest relocation site and barangay in the country with at least one million resident-relocatees. Because of practically non-existent government relocation assistance and social services, poor infrastructure, high rates of poverty and unemployment, and general apathy from society, there were very low trust levels, rampant criminality, and unsafe and poor living conditions. Bagong Silang was exactly the opposite of its name (new birth).
CFC volunteers realized early on that while these troubled youth were improving when they were with CFC, they would revert to their old ways when they returned to their homes and slum environment. It finally dawned on them that the environment needed to be changed. The swamp needed to be drained of poverty, inequality, and social exclusion. These youth needed another chance in life. At its most basic, these children needed a home they could feel safe in, live in comfortably, and reestablish their family relationships. They needed both a physical and spiritual environment to heal.
From the few homes that they fixed, the results were dramatic. Yet these youth and their families struggled to renew themselves in a slum community. The scale of renewal needed to be enlarged. Stable families could build stable communities. CFC’s Seven Pillars provided a holistic approach to family and community development. The model of what is now known as Gawad Kalinga had at its entry point in home building. Providing homes that were comfortable and secure (tenancy-wise) enabled families to save, invest, regain their dignity, and rebuild their lives. Supporting these families and eventually their communities with education, health, values transformation, community organizing, livelihood/productive opportunities, and spiritual ministry provided for individual and community empowerment. In Bagong Silang, the first family they helped is a continuing testament to the viability of this model.
This family was squeezed into a tiny, run-down home. The parents had intermittent, very low paying jobs. All the children were drop-outs. Two of them were gang members. One was a run-away. CFC-GK worked with them, repainted, and eventually rebuilt their 20 sq meter home. The transformation has been dramatic as it is miraculous. Today, their home is a two-storey, concrete, and 60 sq. meter home that is a symbol of faith at work and community self-help. Today, the mother heads their community’s GK Micro-lending program. The father is active in the gardening and feeding programs of GK. Five of the six children finished college and are either working or helping out with GK. They paid a high price though. One of the sons was knifed dead when he tried to help a friend-neighbor attacked by gang members. In growing GK, advocates heed the call of padugo or bleeding for the cause. In Bagong Silang, GK volunteers and beneficiaries have literally paid in blood with Tony Meloto burying six youth killed in gang-related violence.
From this one home, there are now 1,700 GK communities in various stages of establishment all over the country. GK has started in several other countries as well, with Africa in its eyesight. It has replicated and scaled up with the sacrifices of its CFC core of volunteers and partnerships with the national government, over 300 mayors, over a 100 corporations, over 150 schools and universities, overseas Filipinos and their foreign friends, the tri-media, and on-line communities. It has established a decentralized GK Builders Institute nestled in various universities to tap into their organizational and technical expertise and meld the ‘science and spirit’ of community development.
It has ramped up its partnership with towns and town officials. In the process GK is helping local officials become better governors of their resources as they address poverty and homelessness. Last August 8, 2008, it launched the Taguig Designer City (TDC) initiative, wherein the City of Taguig with the help of GK seeks to unsquat the whole of Taguig using the GK model. It will provide city-owned land, manpower, and resources in this endeavor. The TDC shows how modeling best practices in community development can attract the support, if not wholesale adoption, of a community development model by local officials and power holders.
The successes, experiences, and knowledge gained by GK in the past six years enabled it to replicate and scale up. There are many ways of explaining this, but the simplest is this. A movement emerges out of a passion for something. It grows because this passion is shared by many who are willing to sacrifice or in GK’s case, padugo. Padugo enables initial success, builds character, provides leeway for experimentation and recoverable failure, and importantly, generates credibility. Credibility borne out of padugo attracts partners. Once partnerships reach a critical mass the movement snowballs. It is then nurtured by creativity and innovation in its organizational and mobilization aspects. Gawad Kalinga, at its essence, has always been a movement based on holistic human development that is being upscaled.
Make no doubt about it; GK’s vision is to build a new Philippines based on love of God, country, family, and neighbor. On October 11, 2008, it will launch its most ambitious program to achieve its goal of 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in seven years (GK777). GK will launch the CITIZENS’ ACT: WALANG IWANAN! ANO ANG TAYA MO PARA SA BAYAN? At the Fort, Taguig City. This will be a year long campaign to inspire the Philippine Congress to allocate P500 billion for housing, community development, productivity, and other human development programs for the country’s five million poorest families for the next 10 years.
As counterpart or padugo to this allocation for the poor, GK will likewise launch the “Tao Po! Campaign” to tap at least five million Filipinos nationwide and all over the world to promote this Citizen’s Act and to volunteer in ensuring that the funds are used wisely. The campaign will also tap colleges and universities, civic organizations, NGOs, corporations and their employees, and local government units. This national grassroots campaign is consistent with the view of GK that the problems of poverty are so massive that neither government nor the private sector can address it in isolation. It must be national and international mobilization of people power, resources, and skills. This is collective action on national and transnational scales that will morally pressure, if not encourage, the Philippine Congress and government to act.
In the Citizen’s Act, we see even more clearly the fusing of bayani, bayanihan, and bayan.
Walang iwanan, ano ang taya mo bayani?