Jul 222013

Gawad Kalinga (GK) founder Tony Meloto motivates volunteers to work hard all day as one united force that will bring about a nation free from poverty.

Five years ago, the local government of Makati evicted 500 informal settlers from various private properties inside the country’s premier financial district. To the residents’ surprise, however, theirs was the only relocation that ended up in a place rightly called “Dreamland.”

With the help of Gawad Kalinga (GK) and a vast network of private companies and donors, dilapidated shanties were exchanged for middle-class houses, constricted eskenitas for wide, fully-paved roads, and hazardous living conditions for a subdivision that has existing amenities for water, electricity, education, and healthcare. Owned and managed by the Makati local government, Dreamland Ville is a 3.2-hectare property in San Jose Del Monte, Bulacan for 500 former urban poor settlers of the said city. Last June 12, with the help of Berjaya Corporation, the LGU was set to finish the housing project with 30 houses expected to be built in a span of three months.

There was a time when 57-year-old Lilia Soriano was envious of her neighbors who were the first recipients of decent houses five years ago. All that changed last June 12 when Nanay Lilia became one of the projected beneficiaries of the soon-to-be constructed block. With hope ever so near, Nanay Lilia was one of the first volunteers present and working at the site hours before the official program started. Later that morning, Nanay Lilia was in high spirits and proudly declared, “Kami ay nagpapakahirap din magtayo ng aming bahay.” She was addressing 200 people coming from schools, communities, and groups from the nearby province of Bulacan who volunteered to be part of GK’s Freedom Build last June 12. Nanay Lilia is testament that beneficiaries of movements like GK are not just helped but also empowered. At last, her sweat and tears will finally bear fruit once she earns her very own house and lot. Every day, a total of 50 volunteers coming from the community itself serve as the primary workforce that will finish the housing projects jumpstarted by the Freedom Build volunteers. That is what distinguishes GK from ordinary government housing projects. The residents themselves work for the house and lot they are set to receive. From this experience, residents learn that hard work pays off and that the previous practice of waiting for benefits to fall from above is a thing of the past. This is what GK means when it says that elimination of poverty starts with the restoration of human dignity.

Six-year-old Bising Abelgas is the president of the Kapitbahayan Village Association. When I asked her what’s different now, she admitted life is still hard. But the sense of security from having one’s own house and land is indisputably reassuring. “Kahit tuyo lang ang ulam, panatag naman ang loob mo na hindi darating ang araw na papalayasin ka dahil squatter ka lang,” shared Nanay Bising. As the leader of her community, she’s looked up to as someone who instills discipline and order in the community. Because of her leadership, barangay captain Cenon Nolasco declared that Dreamville is the most beautiful subdivision in Barangay Kaypian, Bulacan. “Ang masaganang pamumulaklak ng mga iba’t ibang halaman sa inyong mga hardin ay simbolo ng paglalaan ninyo ng oras araw-araw upang pagyamanin ang kagandahan ng inyong komunidad,” declared Nolasco to the applause of the villagers and volunteers during the program.

Dreamland is the only village that has a multi-purpose hall, fully cemented roads, ably-staffed daycare centers, clinics, and social welfare office, all operating expenses of which are being paid for by the Makati government. And that is not the end of it. Makati still plans to add classrooms at the nearest elementary school and build flea markets to provide an additional source of livelihood for the relocated families.

Ryan Barcelo, officer in charge of Makati Social Welfare Development, connected the celebration of Independence Day and the Freedom Build that happened last June 12. For him, while Rizal and Bonifacio differed in their mode of realizing their dream for the nation, ultimately the two movements were connected by a singular mission — that of restoring the dignity of Filipinos as a free people. “Our house build today will also uphold human dignity. GK’s work restores the culture of love and compassion among Filipinos.”

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A new Makati rises in Bulacan. While it may not be the financial Makati that we know of, what’s present is the same Makati brand of governance that has made the city stable and progressive over the years. That is because, at the heart of that governance is the care and concern it manifests for its residents, rich and poor alike.

Kahit ang marami sa amin ay hindi na botante ng Makati, tuloy-tuloy ang pagtulong ng lungsod sa amin,” attests Nanay Bising.

While every Filipino celebrated independence Day last June 12, it must be said that Nanay Bising and the other residents of Dreamland certainly enjoy more freedom than other Filipinos. What else can one say? Ganito sila sa Makati.

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