By Valerie Tan
Last updated 00:19am (Mla time) 07/05/2006
Published on Page C5 of the July 5, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
RECENTLY, I went to a Gawad Kalinga seminar in MTQ. Gawad Kalinga 777 is an organization that aims to provide a solution to poverty in the Philippines by building 700,000 homes in 7,000 communities in seven years. The homes come complete with a school and clinic in each community.
At first, I felt really out of place in the seminar. I was still in my PE uniform and I was probably the only teenager there. My cousin had asked me to come along to keep her company during the seminar; she was required to attend it for her class. She told me that the Englishman who sold all his possessions and came to live in the Philippines, Dylan Wilks, was going to be there.
This man had always made me curious. Why on earth would the ninth richest man in the United Kingdom give up everything he had and live in the Philippines? Letâ€™s face it, I thought, of all the places he could have decided to live in, why did he choose our country?
But first, there was Gawad Kalinga, of which I was really impressed. It had already set up over a thousand houses in different areas of the Philippines, turning slums into beautiful homes. Neighbors helped build each otherâ€™s houses, together with GK volunteers. I was so amazed at the genius of it all. Finally, a system that worked, I thought to myself. I had to admit that the concept was so simple that you couldnâ€™t understand why nobody had thought of it sooner. I was impressed, all right, but not inspired.
Enter Dylan Wilks. Like everything in this talk, he was not what I had expected. I envisioned an old man who was looking for a reasonable cause to blow all his ac(edited)ulated fortune, or at least someone in his 40s who looked like he had burned out.
But no, Wilks was a young, energetic Brit who hadnâ€™t even reached his 30s! I was alarmed at his passion for GK777. Iâ€™d assumed someone as young as he would be all fun, fun, fun, or all about success in his life. But here he was, millions of miles away from his hometown, encouraging us to join his cause. He said he had realized there was a difference between pleasure and happiness. Pleasure always needed fuel, you always needed to recharge it, like buying clothes, toys, electronics and whatnot. But happiness, he said, was so much deeper. That was what sparked him to look for organizations around the world that would try to provide a solution to poverty.
It was only in the Philippines, and only with Gawad Kalinga, where he thought people had found a proper solution.
When he returned to the UK, he said, he looked at his brand-new BMW and he felt sick. Just one of the wheels of this car could buy two houses in the Philippines. Wilks sold his car and was able to make 80 houses out of the money.
As I listened to him talk on how amazing the Philippines was, I couldnâ€™t help but feel a pang of guilt. Here I was, a Filipino, standing on Philippine soil and listening to a foreigner say how beautiful my country was. Obviously, something was wrong here. As I sat there, I couldnâ€™t help but think: this is a man with not a drop of Filipino blood in him, and yet he was speaking as if heâ€™d be insulted if he were anything but.
I felt wretched. What kind of a citizen was I to have to be encouraged to help my fellow countrymen by a foreigner? I listened to him talk about my country, my people. I couldnâ€™t help but feel a sting in my eyes as I listened to him speaking with such pride, such love and such passion for Filipinos. A passion which, I was ashamed to admit, I didnâ€™t have.
â€œFilipinos are very special,â€ Wilks told us. â€œThey have something very unique about them that makes them stand out.â€
When you drop a piece of gold on the ground, he said, after 400 years when you pick it up, you wonâ€™t see the gold. You see the dirt. Filipinos are all pieces of gold. But because of all the crises in our lives, when we look at ourselves, all we see is the dirt.
Wilks also told us of this 10-year-old Filipino boy who lived in Texas. He believed in GK777 so much that he thought if he sold his drawings to everyone he met, he would be able to set up a house. The boy was not only able to donate one house, but three, as well as a school.
Well, if he could do itâ€”and all the way from Texasâ€”I could do it.
Gawad Kalinga has inspired me to look for the gold. I want to help rebuild the nation, unite the Filipinos and ultimately rid ourselves of the plague of poverty. Gawad Kalinga has shown me that this is possible. With the spirit of bayanihan by our side, I believe we can rise again. Ninoy Aquino said the Filipino is worth dying for, but he is worth living for as well. As the GK777 motto says, â€œEvery Filipino can be a hero.â€