Bantayan Island off the coast of Cebu, Philippines, will be the site of the GK Bayani Challenge 2011 come April 4-9,2011.
Legendary like Boracay and just as remote and beautiful, it will be ground zero for hundreds of volunteers from the USA and other parts of the world who will share brawn, talent, and inspiration to build a better nation for the least of their brothers one house, one family and one community at a time.
It will probably take a generation, according to Gawad Kalinga visionary Tony Meloto, to achieve the reality that nothing is out of reach, no dream is ever impossible, if Filipinos worked for the common good to achieve a world-class way of life in their own turf and in their own backyard.
But it would take the people power of Filipinos living abroad and at home to make it happen.
The Asian Journal caught up with a few of the Gawad Kalinga volunteers from San Diego who were on the GK Build in Palawan last year. Sal Flores and Felix Tuyay, educators from SDSU and Southwestern College in Chula Vista, CA and Marcel Ocampo, who was fresh out of college when he made the trek to Palawan, share their views about the Bayani Challenge and their personal journey.
Marcel Ocampo shares his insights about the GK Challenge.
In a nutshell, the GK Bayani Challenge last year was phenomenal. We were able to connect with other Filipinos from Singapore, Australia, US, and the local Filipinos. I highly recommend it.
Filipinos were genuine in developing a relationship with their counterparts globally. They would say, Welcome home and So how do you plan on helping YOUR country. They would impart that Philippines is the country of the Fil-Ams as well.
Sal Flor, SDSU AB Samahan advisor
Sal Flor, the soul behind SDSUs AB Samahan explains how the GK Build laid the groundwork for ones roots and identity:
As retired advisor to Andres Bonfacio SAMAHAN at SDSU, I always spoke to American born Filipino students about the urgency of making a trip to the Phillippines. The connection between heritage and homeland is not truly complete unless you visit the Philippines. Very few of my relatives immigrated to the US; consequently, only Xmas cards with my Uncle Nesto was the extend of my communication with my mothers family.
I could sense that the next generation 3rd or 4th generation Filipino Americans who do not speak the language would only view the PI as a country of interest.
Visiting the PI through the GK Bayani Challenge, truly was more than just a casual visit to the PI to meet relatives; it gave a sense of community world-wide. The Gawad Kalinga and WeAreOneFilipino movement is not regional or provincial based and gives American Filipinos a sense of how they can help the country their parents left and give themselvs a stronger sense of national identity.
What has changed in your perception of the country?
Growing up in the US, the only news about the PI was less than complimentary, the Marcos regime, corruption, and poverty.
The GK experience and reading the book Builder of Dreams by Antonio Meloto, made me appreciate the struggles my parents faced as leaving the PI and embarking on a new life in the US, that could have led to success or failure. During the GK build in Palawan, I would ask strangers what they thought of GK in the PI and without a doubt, I knew that the trip would be successful. The warmth of the people, the sharing of culture and the GK extended family made me feel welcome as one of them.
What does the journey mean to a native San Diegan who may not speak the Filipino language?
My sense of identity with the Philippines became more pronounced. As a native born San Diegan and not understanding or speaking the Filipino language, my sense of identifying with the homeland was questionable.
I obviously identified as Filipino American in recognition of my parents immigrating from Bicol.
My lack of communication skills in a Filipino dialect lessened my identity. Although, not essential in identifying as a Filipino, language skills can make the transiton easier and more understood.
What is the take away message?
I believe we all have strengthened our understanding and ties with the homeland. We all would encourage like-minded individuals to make the GK challenge.– Sal Flor, AB Samahan SDSU advisor (retired)
Professor Felix Tuyay, Southwestern College
Professor Felix Tuyay, who has taught at Southwestern College for over 30 years, is the co-author of the book Filipinos of San Diego (Arcadia Press) has this to say:
My Gawad Kalinga (GK) Experience
My GK experience only enhanced my committment to educate and to make people aware of the present conditions in the Philippines and the people who are dedicated in improving those conditions such a poverty, social injustice, feelings of powerless, and being a third world country.
Goals of GK
The goals of GK is to change the country through strengthening governance, developing community-based programs for health, education, environment and productivity; building a village culture that honors Filipino values and heritage. Through self-governance, self-reliance, and self-suffiency.
My personal goal is to encourage Filipino Americans and those who been away from the Philippines to be part of this nation building either by participation in the building of homes or donate financially.
Know History, Know Self
GK further increased my knowledge of the real life experiences of the people in the Philippines as well to connect myself to my homeland, my roots. It only strengthed my feelings of who I am and what my parents have gone through that made me more proud of being Filipino. I also go by the motto, Know History, Know Self.
Meeting Real Filipino Heroes
One biggest perception of had of the Philippines before GK is that everybody in the country wants to leave the Philippines to work overseas to send money back to their families. The people I worked and interacted with during GK build wanted to stay in the Philippines to help the country to be economically and politically independent. Being free from foreign domination and controlled by the land elites. They were from all types of backgrounds such a students, professionals, workers, families, and even the poor. In my eyes, these people are the real Filipino heroes.
Rich History and Culture
We have a very rich history and culture and continue to share, especially here in the United States. I would like to personally thank Tony Olaes and the San Diego GK staff for organizing the GK build and the people of the Philippines for providing me a rich and valuable experience. They were an inspiration to me.