Gawad Kalinga: Building Dreams
By Carlo De La Cruz
Note: Originally published in Balikbayan Magazine in the February – March 2010 Issue.
Gawad Kalinga (GK) is a Philippine based NGO that strives to create homes and sustainable shelters for the poorest of the poor. This past summer, I had the opportunity to spend two months with the organization in Bicol, much visited by typhoons in recent months. Through community empowerment and livelihood projects, GK seeks to not only create homes and adequate shelter, but to uplift entire communities and promote a culture of bayanihan. To this day, what remains with me are the memoreis of the people and communities I interacted with, not only the houses I helped to build.
Before leaving for the Philippines, I was advised to be grateful for the generosity and hospitality of the people I would work with. I did not fully understand what this meant until afternoon in Bicol region, a colleague and I interviewed an elderly couple. We introduced ourselves and explained our research project, immediately the couple invited us in and began telling us their story. How difficult it was to have a son before having a suitable home, and their pride in their eldest son’s school achievements. As we talked, the husband discreetly handed monet to the wife and she immediately went ot the store.
When she returned, she carried two cold bottles of Coke and a bag of sweet bread, which they offered to us. We accepted the Cokes and the bread, although reluctantly. The cost of the snack was 100 pesos, or about $2. This was equal to their weekly earning, and they gave it up to make two visitors comfortable in their home.
Replaying the amount would have been an insult, so I decided to to to send them the photographs from our afternoon spent together. After all, the photos always rightfully belonged to them.