The late U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said that, “One person can make a difference and every person should try.” But why struggle alone when you can achieve your dreams as a group or as a team? Thus, the eminent anthropologist Margaret Mead’s famous quote appeals more to me. She said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Mead was proven correct last Saturday, 23 May 2009, when the All 85 Gawad Kalinga Village broke ground at Sitio Pajo, Bgy. Baesa, Quezon City. Participating member schools of high school Batch 85 pledged to fund 26 homes for the residents thereat. As long-time informal dwellers on land that was not theirs, they organized themselves and sought the help of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the QC local government to purchase the land they were squatting on. It took years, but working together, they finally gained ownership of the land.
Sitio Pajo is a high-density slum with narrow streets, poor drainage, lack of access to basic services, and a high risk fire area. It borders middle class exclusive villages including the nearby Quezon City General Hospital. Last February 25, 2009, about 195 families were affected by a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) explosion that ignited a fire. About 99 families completely lost their homes. It was the second fire that occurred in Bgy. Baesa within the last 12 months. It looked hopeless to many residents burdened by poverty and disaster, but their indomitable spirit and Gawad Kalinga provided hope for a new beginning.
Gawad Kalinga is the path breaking faith-based movement on community development and nation-building seeking to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in seven years. It has been helping the residents of Sitio Pajo build not only new, brightly colored and to-code homes, but also meaningful lives through community solidarity and empowerment. With dedicated Couples for Christ (CFC) caretaker-volunteers and the generous support of Colgate-Palmolive Corp. and their employees, both active and retired, they’re transforming this former slum area into a community filled with “Bright Smiles.” All 85 GK will now follow what Colgate started.
For All 85, it can’t be a more fulfilling moment from that day in July 2008 when a few of us were toying with the idea of making our 25th anniversary high school homecoming celebration a more meaningful one. After all, how many parties and dinners can you have to celebrate one’s homecoming? We wondered how we could align our respective homecoming celebrations to that of giving back to our communities and to our country in a way that modeled solidarity or bayanihan.
Our inspiration was Gawad Kalinga. Gawad Kalinga enabled us to work as one united Batch 85. The Gawad Kalinga movement and its activities have always modeled audacious goals, persistence based on faith, and padugo—bleeding for the cause and modeling heroic action of loving the poor. GK espoused unity of the family, of the community, and of the nation.
It took eight months to get to here. Each school representative had to convince their own batchmates that sponsoring an All 85 GK Village on top of the respective batch’s commitment to their alma mater, their school’s chosen civic project, and their own homecoming activities and expenses still made sense and were feasible. Each school sought to commit at least one home, ideally two.
The next hurdle was the time commitment. All had to get to know one another and to align each other batch’s capacities, capabilities, and constraints in order to get the village going. Despite work, family, and other responsibilities, the monthly meetings were well attended. ANCOP-GK’s Rose Cabrera, Batch 85 of St. Therese College and her husband, Bong, Lourdes 85, were able to get Tony Meloto and Dylan Wilk to meet and inspire the group. Rose was also able to arrange for monthly All 85 GK activities in different GK villages as a way to familiarize All 85ers with the GK work and the “GK Way” of doing community development and nation building.
Apparently, the meetings, talks, and activities were transformational. Assumption’s Emily M.-Y. and Judy C. got things started with Assumption 85’s full commitment to All 85. Emily also got some sizable pledges. A get together of Maryknoll 85ers in the United States led to enough donations for one home. John-John T. of La Salle Zobel, according to CSA’s Nilo T., thought it was just a matter of raising funds for the village. But visiting the GK villages, talking and meeting with GK residents, and helping in community builds have transformed him. John-John has willingly taken on the leadership role along for All 85 and his leadership has been inspirational.
The transformational aspect of GK was also not lost on someone who wrote:
“I’ve always heard about GK but never had the opportunity to visit GK sites or to learn about the true spirit of GK. As you know, anyone who graduated in high school in 1985 is about to celebrate their ‘25th year’ and the village we could build would be in tribute to our 25th year. But this is not all that GK ALL’85 will accomplish. It was an eye opener, to say the least, to actually visit a GK community. Learning that GK is not just about donating funds gave me a perspective on what the ‘big picture’ really is. GK is about community building. It is about bringing our high school graduating class and other batch ‘85 alumni together. We can help build a community by donating not only our funds but our time and our talent/skills…”
It does help that many school representatives knew one another from high school or from college. A number went to University of the Philippines (U.P.) Diliman so it was natural to leverage the U.P. network. In U.P., there was also a corner nook called A.S. 101 where 85ers hung out and friendships were made. Thus, it was easy for those hanging out there, or in the A.S. lobby, or were part of the various UP organizations and clubs to get together in All 85.
Marriage was also a key network link. A number of 85ers from different high schools are married to one another. Couple Raul and Celine P., Ateneo 85 and STC 85 respectively, were not aware of All 85 GK, but met up with Rose Cabrera to discuss donating a home to GK. This serendipitous moment worked well for All 85. CFC is another awesome link with Assumption’s Emily M.-Y., Rose C., Povedan 85er Marivic P.-P. as members and All 85 movers. They even got a fellow CFCer and non-85er to contribute to the All 85 GK village!
We're also not complaining that QC Vice-Mayor Herbert Bautista along with his fellow batchmate Ricky H., are both of San Beda 85. San Beda is coming in with a vegetable gardening program with the QC government and a home.
All 85 GK is composed of the following schools: Assumption, Ateneo, Colegio San Agustin, Immaculate Conception Academy, La Salle Zobel, La Salle Greenhills, Lourdes, Philippine Science High School, Poveda Learning Center, Maryknoll, Xavier, San Beda, School of the Holy Spirit, St. Paul’s Pasig, St. Therese College, Southridge, and Woodrose. We welcome the participation of other schools and hope they will eventually join us.
Nation building means building strong and empowered communities. The residents of Sitio Pajo have shown us that despite all their adversities they continue to work for a life of dignity. We can reciprocate. Like them we can work together. We model solidarity and bayanihan by working as a united Batch 85 in improving the lives of our less fortunate brothers and sisters.
As the Dalai Lama noted, “It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act.” All 85 GK is our little contribution to the GK Way of rediscovering our roots, empowering people, and inspiring change.
For more information, visit us at our Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=83112765474) orhttp://groups.yahoo.com/group/GK_All85/.