December 2011

Holiday Letter from GK President Tony Meloto

"A Star is Rising in the East"

Dear family and friends,

The recent catastrophe in Mindanao happening so close to Christmas is a reminder that in the midst of the dark clouds and flood waters, the brightest light will shine through us if we follow the Savior who came to save us from ourselves.

Tragedy has always given us the opportunity to express our humanity through charity and acts of compassion, lately with recurring frequency due to our deepening poverty and deteriorating ecology.

Like in previous calamities, many cancelled parties to donate cash and goodies to the distressed, others gave up vacations to do relief and rehab work in CDO, Iligan and Negros. Even our Muslim volunteers participated in relief work so their Christian brothers and sisters can celebrate Christmas.

The spirit of the season was not lost because of the tragedy. It was, in fact, found by those who sacrificed comfort and pleasure to be a gift to others in need.

This is also what Gawad Kalinga is all about: to respond to the needs of the times, capture the mood of the moment, live out the spirit of our faith and to be a people who will live with honor.

I am particularly thankful to those who found Jesus in the homeless and the hungry, who coursed their generosity through us to help the victims because of their growing trust in our expanding ground presence and our strong determination not to leave the helpless and the hopeless behind.

I am deeply grateful to our army of hope-builders whose mission is to deliver immediate relief and build lasting hope.

They started moving as the flood waters were rising, activating a network of heroes and partners in the country and abroad to provide a sustained lifeline to victims from day one of the tragedy - turning despair to hope, moving from relief to rehab, from rebuilding communities to restoring lives. We did it with the victims of Reming, Ondoy and Pepeng in the past; we will continue to do it with the same passion for the victims of Sendong.

GK is about scaling up to do more good.

With limited resources and great faith we have multiplied loaves and fishes to bring new life to typhoon, flood, landslide, fire and war victims in our 2000 communities. With greater faith we will continue to do it for many more, not only in the Philippines but in other countries as well.

With or without resources, we will continue to do it anyway.

GK is about pursuing a big vision without letup. It is clear to our believers that without a vision God's people will perish.

We have a long way to go to reach our 2024 dream of ending our vulnerability as a resource rich nation whose poverty is a scandal to the world and to God.

The path will continue to be difficult - but we will do it anyway.

We will pursue the daunting task of turning compassion into sustainable passion for social innovation and positive action - for us to be a country of victors with faith, no longer just victims of fate.

Without effective stewardship, life in this planet will end.

We cannot rest until there is justice and peace in our country, until our plundered and abandoned land is green with abundance, until our schools graduate wealth creators and not just job seekers, producers and not just consumers - until we become good citizens who build and not destroy, who value honor more than power.

Without patriotism in action, our children will live without honor just like us.

We have found direction in vision, power in purpose and strength in sacrifice. Our Christianity is about passion and padugo - emptying ourselves for the higher cause and the greater good.

Without love for our poor neighbor, there is no proof of our love for God.

Our challenge for 2012 and the social artistry stage of GK is more radical innovation with greater excellence. Build it right and do it well... and they will come.

Without seeking global recognition, GK got a lot of it in 2011.

In February, we were invited to keynote the Asian Summit for Social Entrepreneurs in South Korea.

In May, we received the Japan Nikkei award in Tokyo as Asian leader for Regional Growth, the first for the Philippines in this category after 16 years. We will strive for greater self-reliance to erase in their eyes the image of the Philippines as a country of Japayukis.

In June, we presented GK as a ground up development model at the Regional World Economic Forum (WEF) in Jakarta, at a CNN session with Jeffrey Sachs.

Also in June, Think Big Innovation awarded a grant to GKonomics for their social enterprise development in 40 GK communities. Women of substance have found pleasure in creating a high end market to showcase the creativity of the poor.

In September, we received a Microsoft grant to grow our software for global expansion and for bottom of the pyramid wealth creation.

In October, Human Nature, an offspring of GK, won as Social Entrepreneur of the Year for Ernst & Young, Schwab Foundation and WEF. GK won it last year. The caring gene can be passed on and become a cultural DNA.

In November, we capped the year with the Skoll Award and a million dollar prize to help spread the good virus of Kalinga (caring) and Bayanihan(sharing) to the ends of the earth.

We will hit the ground running in January next year when we present the Philippines as the next wonder of Asia at the gathering of global leaders in Davos, Switzerland at the WEF session on Innovations Ecosystem.

What must we demand of ourselves in 2012 as trust and opportunities grow?

1. With great honor comes greater humility.

2. Great credibility demands greater integrity.

3. More resources means more sacrifice.

With God's grace it will be a greater year for our cause.

We have a bold and wise leader in PNoy with the credibility, popularity and political will to make us a just and honest nation.

GK has a visionary and servant leader in Luis Oquinena with a competent management team, a patriotic Board and an army of heroes who will guarantee faithfulness to the vision and delivery of the mission.

This is my simple wish for every Filipino to remember when he wakes up every morning.

We will rise with the rest of Asia if we love our country with all our heart... go all out to care for our people...fight all the way to defeat poverty and injustice where they exist.

A BLESSED NEW YEAR TO ALL!

Tony Meloto

Gawad Kalinga

My Extended Vacation in the Philippines

By Julian Dominik Espino

This past summer, my family went to the Philippines for holiday. As a part of our vacation, our parents, Nilo and Zayne Espino, took us to a slum area and then  to a new village to see the difference. We saw the restored  hope and the dignity of the residents in the new village so my siblings and I ended up extending our vacation for three more weeks (our parents left ahead of us) to volunteer with Gawad Kalinga (GK). Their goal is to end poverty by providing not only houses to the poor, but also a means of livelihood so the provided community will be sustained. We stayed n a GK Village for three weeks, and boy, those weeks were definitely not enough.

Living in a first world country where there is an abundance of opportunity for people to thrive, I had an idea of an affluent life. It was almost impossible to even think about the other existing reality in life, which is poverty. Because of this, I took many things for granted.  I did not  realize before my immersion with GK how fortunate we were.

During my stay at the Enchanted Farm, I lived with one of the families of the GK village, the lovely De la Pena  family. They were a family with four children: Leah, Bernie, Brian and Jeric. I felt quite intrusive to be honest. Just to have to accommodate one more person in their home made me feel uncomfortable, but you become comfortable with them very fast because of their kindness. Even though they did not have a lot to offer me, they still provided me great hospitality that made me feel like I was a part of their family.

The Enchanted Farm Village, where I volunteered at, is still in its developing stage. The road, a clinic and many other facilities are still under construction . I talked to a lot of villagers and workers to find work. That’s really the only way you can find anything to do around the farm.

There were numerous tasks a volunteer could help with during the day. In the sum of my stay I helped build a pathway,  I helped clean out the piggery; I helped plant citronella and lemongrass, I taught in the school village (Sibol School), got  involved with the waste management project and a daycare project. At the end of each day, all volunteers have dinner and talk about where we helped and what problems we encountered. This is where we discuss and, like a team, give each other either moral support or ideas to find solutions to succeed in our projects. We talk about each other’s day and we really get to appreciate each other’s hard work.

 I really got to immerse myself in the Filipino culture during my stay there. There were numerous occasions where we had our fun bonding sessions with the volunteers and the villagers (almost every night),

Working alongside the villagers was another great way to get to know them. I got to hear their stories and to learn from their experiences. They made work enjoyable. I saw the joy in each other’s presence. Laughing and jokes were always part of their work and they still managed to get things done properly and on time.

As the days went by, I was invited by a French volunteer, who has stayed there for two months, to help him with one of the projects he was working with. I was asked to translate a brochure on his composting project. Then I got really interested in this project until it evolved to a bigger project. Talking to the villagers and just observing during my stay there I noticed that the villagers burn all their garbage. Then, I learned that there was a villager that collects recyclables and resells them for a few change. Along with several other French volunteers, we created a system to implement cleanliness and recycling to reduce burning of garbage and littering. Then we conceived a project of making several garbage bins, a compost site, presentations on teaching the villagers how to compost or recycle etc. The process helped me with my problem solving skills. I exercised my skills to find problems around the farm and use my creativity to devise a solution. 

Overall, this trip exceeded my expectations tenfold. It was a great way to contribute and give back to the community especially because it helped me have a more intimate understanding of my culture and people.  I got to meet and network with amazing people around the world, and I really got to step into the shoes of the people who are less fortunate which most people wouldn’t think would be a fun experience. But it was such an exhilarating and fulfilling experience. It was the best experience of my life, and I literally would do it all over again. This trip was life changing. In living the way the villagers live, I learned to love and appreciate what I have.

(Note: The Espino family is now hosting one of the French volunteers in Canada. He is here for a visit and will be celebrating Christmas with his extended GK family.)