I am preparing to go on my first mission abroad for 2013. Since 2008, I have been regularly visiting the United States, deliberately seeking out Filipino-Americans and trying to imbibe their experience of leaving a motherland to adopt another country. I cannot anymore count the number of families who opened their homes to me, much less the greater number of people they gathered so I could expand my network of sources of information. I have organizations and associations to thank as well; they have been many and our interactions have been quite enlightening. While not a Filipino-American, I believe I have met more Filipino-Americans than most of them in the last five years than they since they migrated to America.
It has helped me, too, that I had first gone to the States since 1979 as an executive doing business with American corporations and Fil-Am trading companies. It was a past life of jet setting, of first class travel and fancy hotels and restaurants. Corporate life is quite the opposite of advocacy life, of being part of a non-profit foundation reaching out to the hearts and generosity of others as a representative of the poor in the Philippines. It astonishes me still that I can arrive in the United States with $50 in my pocket and go home with $150. The hospitality of Filipinos is not a myth or an empty claim as far as I am concerned – I am a repeat beneficiary. And the more I travel, the more I am blessed to have a growing family of Filipinos only too happy to host me.
However, my age is a deadly stalker. Much as I am willing to continue my travel pace, much as my family remains tolerant and understanding of my frequent and extended absences, much as the work of establishing a greater support base of Fil-Ams to help the poor among Filipinos needs to expand exponentially, my body is starting to complain. Mind over matter, they say, and I used to believe it. Not anymore.
A few days ago, I had a meal and long discussion with a college classmate (don’t ask me what year) and his wife who are both doctors practicing in Kansas. They have been my hosts when I visit Kansas, very active volunteering in the same work I do, and are here in the Philippines to attend a convention of UST doctors. We did spend time sharing the challenges and opportunities of 2013 and how these could affect our cause, but this time we also talked of taking a sabbatical and spend two or three weeks traveling for fun, to rest, to get away from it all. That’s senior citizenship when two very busy and committed men can begin to think of checking off their bucket list.
It is also harder to leave and then not be with a grandson who visits me every day. At less than three years old, he has wormed himself into my life and into my routine. It is like getting married all over again with lots of moments of anticipation, joy and discovery. The work that I do for Gawad Kalinga (GK) is very much connected to my grandson because it is a work for the poor as much as an investment on the young. Trying to take the poor out of poverty is building a new future for the Filipino people. Our cause is focused on setting the stage for major changes to happen to the lives of millions of families who have inherited an evil misfortune through no fault of their own. As we confront the landlessness, the homelessness and hunger of our poor, we are thinking of their children as well, hoping we could change the traditional inheritance of poverty to one of hope and opportunity.
As one generation of Filipinos fades away, I am beginning to be more optimistic that an anachronistic and destructive mindset on both ends of the social spectrum – that of the rich not caring and that of the poor developing a survivalist mode. My optimism flows from the fact that Gawad Kalinga has discovered a formula that can dismantle even the most embedded and massive poverty and has two thousand communities to prove it.
The residents of the communities that GK has established remain mostly with little income, but they are staying in their villages and have cut their migratory patterns. They are not landless anymore, they are not homeless anymore, and they are not hungry, or as hungry, as they were before. They live with hope, not despair, and they see a way out – mostly through their children who go and stay in school more consistently than ever before. My optimism flows even stronger from the reality of younger generations of Filipinos who bring in new waves of nobility and purity despite the stain of corruption from their parent generations.
The continuing success of GK is not the genius of its leaders and the framers of its programs and policies; it is from their very simplicity, the consistency of their motivation and the determination to move forward whatever the circumstance, whatever the cost. These have translated to nobility, the kind that inspires, the kind that attracts, especially the young. And so it has come to pass that a small organization with little resources has leveraged the credibility they have built to convince tens of thousands of volunteers to sustain and grow a work that becomes more effective from lessons learned – and constant caring hearts. Gawad Kalinga is proving it is a spirit, a movement, more than an organization.
The volunteers, too, are not only growing in number, they are getting younger. The natural idealism of the young has found a cause to join – the building of a new nation from the ground up, not top down. They are catalysts for democracy, pushing the greater number from the bottom to be the central sector of society – all from an innocence of spirit rather than an intellect of institutions. Our young, rich and poor, are challenging the impossible. And I believe they will win.
The future is here.