Tuesday morning Renelyn, Tam and some others participated in a Gawad Kalinga immersion. Gawad Kalinga is an organisation which works transforming slums. They work with donors and the people living in the slums to build cottages. For people to qualify to have a cottage built for themselves, they first need to work a certain amount of time building cottages for their neighbours. The children are also enrolled in schools and in youth groups for their age. Healthcare is made available to the communities and different experts help with talks, with skills, with seeking jobs. The most important part of Gawad Kalinga is that it doesn't just give the poor what they need, the poor become partners in transforming their communities and themselves. There are homeowners associations, and the president of the association is typically the last one to receive their own house.
Our immersion consisted of working in one slum site, and staying in another community which had already been transformed. Tuesday morning we drove to Talanay and spent the morning painting - one important aspect of Gawad Kalinga is to make the communities beautiful, so the cottages are all painted bright, warm colours. There were a number of children who gathered to watch us and play nearby. The children all help whenever they're allowed, they tried to help us with painting but were shooed away by their parents for wasting paint. Another aspect of Gawad Kalinga is that the volunteers don't just come in, work, and leave. It is important that the volunteers meet and get to know the people living there, so breaks are scheduled frequently to allow opportunities to chat and hang out. During these breaks there is of course always food. Philippinos are very hospitable and very generous, even the slums we were always offered more food than we could eat. Our first morning break they made chocolate rice porridge for us. The whole time I was eating, the women watched me to ensure I liked it and asked me frequently if it was good. Thankfully it was delicious so I could honestly reply that I loved it. Afterwards they asked if I'd ever eaten putopao, and since I hadn't they promised me we would have it the next day for our snack.
After painting all morning we drove to Brookside, the Gawad Kalinga community which is already a community of beautiful cottages. We arrived at lunchtime and were taken to the school where there were some hotplates to cook on. Greg, our rapporteur with GK, asked the women how to cook rice and they went into detailed descriptions so I finally mentioned that I know how to cook rice. The women were so excited, they asked "you know how to cook?" yes, "you know how to cook rice?" yes, "without a rice cooker?" yes. So then two of them followed us down for proof of this novelty. I will confess the rice was a little mushy, the pots were designed to cook for upwards of 40 children at a time, so cooking for 7 was hard to measure but the women were still impressed.
We then walked up a little hill to the community center. In each GK community they organise productivity activities to allow the communities to be self sustaining. In Brookside the women bead flip-flops. We spent three hours beading flipflops with them, and not one of us finished a whole pair. Of course, the women were much faster than we were but it is quite a lot of effort, they sell the flip-flops for 100 pesos - the equivalent of $2USD. Each woman receives for the sale of one of her flip-flops 15 pesos. They are lucky to sell 3 or 4 flip-flops each/week. These tiny amounts of money enable the women to buy food, school supplies for their children, and mean the difference between surviving and begging.
Upon arrival to Brookside we were each given families, we ate and slept with our families and hung out with our brothers and sisters, I became Ate (big sister) to a fourteen year old girl named Ann. Tuesday evening, we all met in the community center for an evening activity with SIGA, the community youth group. GK focuses on hope, heroism, and honour in transforming the slums. There is a Tagalog word, bayani, which roughly translated into English means "one who carries a home" or hero. We listened to a talk on hope given by one man who used to be a millionaire and gave it all up to work full time for GK. The president of SIGA also spoke about hope, the president is 17 years old and studying information technology in university. He spoke about growing up in a slum and the transformation that happened to his life when he was able to live in a house, attend school and receive the opportunity to attend university and have hope for his future. He was shy about his english and interjected many of his sentences with "parang" rough translation "like." This caused the other kids endless amusement and him much shyness but his talk was beautiful.