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A Powerful Reflection of Life in the Philippines

It’s been almost 2 weeks since the ‪#‎Filgrimage trip, and I can’t help but reflect on the lasting impression it has made on me, my outlook on life, my purpose, and possible ways I can make a difference. I would say the most impactful day of our Filgrimage trip was Day 3.

In the morning, we had the opportunity to visit an underprivileged community living in poverty in Kawit, Cavite. Our Filgrimage group, which was normally talkative and cheerful, fell more quiet and somber as soon as we had arrived. As we walked through the shanties in a long single file line, I can sense heavy hearts with sadness and disbelief to see firsthand families who actually live in such poor living conditions in homes made of scavenged materials surrounded with trash. We came across Anna Lisa, who welcomed us without hesitation into her ancestral home of 60 years to see how they live and even graciously shared her story with us, 25 strangers.

“Our Filgrimage group, which was normally talkative and cheerful, fell more quiet and somber as soon as we had arrived.”

As she described how her family makes a living and tearfully shared her dream of a better future for her children to get a decent job – tears fell from almost everyone in the group as we felt for her and remembered the dreams and struggles of our own parents and grandparents to have a better future for us in America. And if fate were different, any one of us could have been like Anna Lisa. When asked what she does in her free time for fun, she laughed and said there is none because there is no money. Instead, her and her kids take apart old tires into small strips to make rope for them to sell, which made me tearful thinking of my own kids and if they were in that situation.

“And if fate were different, any one of us could have been like Anna Lisa.”

While we had left the shanties that morning feeling dismal and frustrated, we arrived at the Gawad Kalinga village in Rosario, Cavite in the afternoon with a sense of hope – like we had just been through a “before” and were now seeing an “after.” As our “baby-bus” jeepney pulled in the driveway, we were immediately greeted by smiles from the whole community, who had gathered to welcome us with music from a children’s band and garlands.

Gawad Kalinga is a global initiative to build homes, establish livelihood programs, and end poverty one community at a time throughout the Philippines. The Olaes PNOC GK Village alone has provided 120+ homes for deserving families. There is an application process and certain qualifications need to be met in order to receive a home and live in a GK village. Once a home is given, it can stay within the family for following generations, but cannot be sold. What impressed me is that to earn a home, an applicant has to put in 1500+ hours not only in building their own home, but in helping to build someone else’s home. It teaches one to not only TAKE, but to also learn how to GIVE and instills the value of community by helping one another. We talked with the families who have lived there for almost 5 years, and even put ourselves to work by painting new homes.

Gawad Kalinga aims to end poverty by first restoring the dignity of the poor. Back in the shanties, Anna Lisa’s story and situation moved me that I felt like I couldn’t leave without doing anything, so I wanted to leave a little something with her and her mom. But she didn’t want my money. She was very reluctant and kept saying it was OK until myself and one of our organizers finally talked her into it explaining that I am also a mother and I want to help.

As Kuya Ponciano (Pons) of Gawad Kalinga even quoted “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.”

There are many people like Anna Lisa who don’t want handouts, but to have the opportunity to earn money through their own hard work.

Gawad Kalinga’s Community Building Program is very inspiring because it promotes values-formation, leadership development, community empowerment, and livelihood programs so that communities can be self-reliant and sustainable.

This reflection and testimonial was originally a post written by Lesley Denina Ani, a Filgrim, Project Manager at Strategic Solutions Division, and mother of two lovely boys. Thank you for your contribution, Lesley!

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