June 2005

By Perry Diaz


Quezon City, Philippines — For those who do not believe in miracles, I suggest that they go to the Philippines and visit one of the project sites of Gawad Kalinga (GK) 777. Yes, miracles happen and a miracle is now in progress in more than 500 sites all over the Philippines. I have witnessed the miracle in progress. However, I don’t think I can truly express what I saw and felt when I visited several Gawad Kalinga villages.


When I arrived in the Philippines last May 21, my top priority was to visit a Gawad Kalinga project and see for myself how this much-publicized project worked. On May 23 and 24, I joined a tour given by GK of several project sites.


The first site was the Brookside Village in Payatas, Quezon City. Our van went through several neighborhoods including shantytowns and the gated community of Fil-Invest, a higher middle class community. For some reason, the only paved road going to Brookside has to go through Fil-Invest. Within a few minutes after exiting the gate at the opposite end of Fil-Invest, we were in Brookside, a community of small concrete homes, each painted with a bright color. Yes, we saw red, blue, orange, yellow, pink colored houses.


As we walked through rows of multi-colored, multi-unit buildings, the residents came out to greet us. Ed, the President of the village association, met us and directed us to an activity room for a briefing. Ed gave us a status of the Brookside Village. Currently, Brookside has 220 homes. Each house is 25 square meters with a living room, a kitchen, one bedroom, a toilet, and electricity. The toilet is tiled and has a water closet, lavatory and a shower. The toilet is connected to septic tank. Most of the homes have city water supply. Those that do not have water connection as of yet, avail of a community hand-pumped well.


Ed also gave us a briefing on the progress of the Gawad Kalinga school program, a unique and novel program that is value-based and whose goal is to end crime and repair broken homes, relationships and communities as well as teaching traditional subjects.


The school program which exists in each GK site are divided into three classes: “SIBOL” is for children aged 3-6; “SAGIP” for children aged 7-13; and “SIGA” for 13+ out of school youth. According to GK, “the school program, coupled with GK’s other programs, give children a real chance at breaking the generational cycle of poverty and help build skills for a happy and successful life by allowing them to learn new skills, attend workshops and livelihood training rather than waste time in gangs or begging.”


Ed also showed us the GK Plaza, which has a concrete basketball court. Around the plaza is a church, a community library that includes six computers, and an elementary school operated by Stella Maris College.


Brookside Village was built with donations from donors and labor was provided by the beneficiaries (the new residents), Couples for Christ and other volunteers including Filipino-Americans and other foreign volunteers. Stella Maris College donated the land. Foreigners including a large number of Filipino-Americans donated the materials for the houses and other structures.


The second day of the tour brought us to BASECO Village in Tondo, Bayang Bato Village in Mandaluyong, and the Prayer Mountain Village in Antipolo. Each village is a little bit different from the others. But the basic concept is applied like a franchise. After two days of touring GK villages, I am convinced that the Philippines is finally in the right direction of nationhood by, first and foremost, building the family unit.


Gawad Kalinga 777, as it is officially known is the project of the Couples for Christ, the Philippines’ fastest growing evangelical mission. The goal of GK777 is to build 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in 7 years while reinstating the self-respect of the Filipino by rekindling the spirit of bayanihan. Yes, GK777 is bayanihan in action. In the process, it brings out the hero in every Filipino.


In the villages that we toured, the villages’ caretakers — which consists of Couples for Christ volunteers — showed us pictures and videos of the how the neighborhood looked like before the GK777 villages were built. The caretakers are the backbone of GK777. They implemented the plans for each village from the time each village is funded to building the houses. They manage the various programs in each village.

They’re the crusaders committed to stamping out poverty and rebuild the villages into model communities. They work hand in hand with the donors and the beneficiaries. I asked them how long they’re involved with the GK village and their reply was: “Whatever it takes to complete all the programs successfully.” That’s a lifetime commitment. However, what is encouraging is that most of the beneficiaries (the new homeowners) joined the Couples for Christ. Pretty soon, they’ll be the new crusaders showing and helping the poorest of the poor families rebuilt their families and regain their dignity.


Through GK’s values formation programs, vices disappear and people become productive and willing to work. GK’s programs include microfinance, agricultural/farming, food sufficiency, entrepreneurial workshops, and livelihood training from care giving to computer skills. According to GK’s statistics, most residents of GK sites are working in less than three years!


One of the goals of GK777 is community empowerment. According to GK777, “after undergoing the values formation programs, GK residents join a ‘Kapitbahayan’ neighborhood association in their GK site and this is the key to their ultimate empowerment. In the beginning, the GK caretaker teams teach stewardship and accountability, team effort and co-operation, unity and community spirit. They set standards for cleanliness, peace and order, conflict resolutions, community mobilization, etc. Over 3-5 years, responsibility is completely transferred to the ‘Kapitbahayan’ and the poor become truly empowered to keep their community peaceful, beautiful and productive.”


I truly believe that GK777 is working. I saw it in every face of the youth in the GK villages. They have clean faces with happy smiles and their eyes were aglow with hope. Yes, they’re the ones that will finally benefit from the work of Gawad Kalinga. Someday, they’ll be the leaders of their GK villages, their towns, their cities, their provinces, and their beloved Philippines.


As we left each GK village, we drove by the neighboring shantytowns and I looked into the faces of the youth. Most of them have dirty faces with sad smiles and empty eyes. They’re the poorest of the poor. They probably feel hopeless just like the GK beneficiaries not too long ago. If they could only get donors to help them rebuild their community…  and restore their faith in themselves.  Is it wishful thinking or a miracle in progress?