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Fine way to sustain the Filipino spirit

/ 12:08 AM February 19, 2015

Many Filipinos complain about being poor, without doing anything about it. The reality of poverty is everywhere: in the streets, on television, even in the people we work with. However, the call to action is not always felt or made manifest among us. There is too much pressure on the government to do something for every issue that disturbs our nation, including poverty. But what if it is not enough to rely on the government? After all, sociologists have always contended that the private sector holds a key role in nation-building.

I have decided to do my part, to see how one movement in the private sector is aiming to end poverty by 2024. Gawad Kalinga, the brainchild of Ramon Magsaysay Award recipient Tony Meloto, has literally broken ground in bridging the gap between the privileged and the poor. Sweat equity is the “mode of payment” for Gawad Kalinga houses, as the recipients of the houses are usually among the builders of their future dwellings. They are assisted by volunteers who work under a bayanihan system.

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The volunteers are a varied mix: students, employees, housewives, executives, or anyone with limited building experience. They work as a team to pass cement bags, hollow blocks and tools. While my scoliosis and fear of heights have prevented me from joining their build projects, I witnessed their cooperative spirit first-hand when I joined their Operation Walang Iwanan (literally, “no one gets left behind”), a project involving repacking relief goods after Typhoon “Yolanda” struck the Visayas.

I worked with complete strangers in repacking rice, food and clothing. During breaks, we performed the Gawad Kalinga unity dance. It was a festive activity, where rich and poor, young and old worked together to help the typhoon survivors.

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That experience served to persuade me to become more involved with Gawad Kalinga. I signed up for Human Nature, which produces healthy cosmetics and other home products, because I believed that this social enterprise could empower the poor to escape poverty. I signed up mainly for the purpose of getting a discount for myself, as well as to sell the products to close family members and friends, but I soon came to realize that being part of the Human Nature family has opened my eyes to social conditions.

Knowing that the company employs people from Gawad Kalinga communities has driven me to go beyond reselling and into an orientation that is nationalistic and socially aware. Our company’s Christmas party at the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm in Angat, Bulacan, was an opportunity for me to interact with a poor community who takes pride in what it does and is welcoming of everyone. I felt the warmth of the community members. What proved interesting was the fact that most of them came from backgrounds that society normally frowns upon, such as criminal gangs, rebel groups and urban syndicates. And yet, they all welcomed me, an outsider, into their community. That experience prodded me to join the “social business camp” in order to further immerse myself in this community that has helped me look past poverty and focus on potentials.

The social business camp ran for two consecutive weekends. I witnessed different social business demos, and listened to inspiring stories from graduates of prestigious universities who worked in multinational companies and then decided to work with the poor in establishing businesses dedicated to empowering communities rather than making a profit. These entrepreneurs provide jobs to those who need these most and live on the farm itself. Their lives may sound idyllic but the reality is far from it, as they have faced familial rejection, societal misunderstanding, even loneliness. Yet their faith in the poor and in their products, such as food, chocolates and gift items, prevails. Their unselfishness in sharing their beginnings and continuing stories has inspired me to support social businesses.

I experienced early-morning farming with the community. It stirred in me a renewed appreciation for the food on my table. The farm-fresh food that was served us also made me realize how easy it is to eat healthful meals and support local farmers at the same time.

The time I spent with some residents of the Gawad Kalinga community is unforgettable. The farm has its own college where deserving students are provided quality education for free. I was inspired by the parents’ belief that they can rise out of poverty as long as they continue working together. The college scholars have practical visions of putting up social businesses in order to provide sustainable employment for their community. Indeed, Gawad Kalinga’s motto of “Walang iwanan” is practiced by everyone on the farm, truly ensuring that no one is left behind.

I have a full-time job in Manila. I am empowered as a Filipino because my talent is appreciated on a multinational scale. My earnings allow me to support social enterprises, and while I do not see myself as an entrepreneur, I am driven to maintain a lifelong relationship with Gawad Kalinga. I have found a family that lets me help the poor without my leaving a job that I am passionate about. It is through Gawad Kalinga that I have renewed my pride in being a Filipino, because we do not leave each other behind.

It is my prayer that more people will discover Gawad Kalinga and social entrepreneurship. By choosing local, we help build the Philippines. Through a “Walang iwanan” spirit, we put our faith in the Filipino into action. And it is by working together that we will become the country that God has intended us to be.

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Samantha Lucas, 28, works as a risk management officer in an Australian company.

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TAGS: Gawad Kalinga, human nature, Poverty, social entrepreneurship
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