Thursday morning was our last day of GK Immersion. We said goodbye to our families, a number of the SIGA kids came to say bye, even Aliah was there. Instead of going back to build at Talanay, we toured a number of other GK sites. We visited another site nearby which was also under construction. We then visited Baseco, a slum beside the site of what used to be one of Manila's busiest ports. Baseco is one of the most dangerous areas in Manila. There are high crime rates and the police are almost entirely ineffectual there. GK now houses a few thousand families and within the GK site there is almost no crime and the difference in the people who live there and just outside is incredible. It is possible to look down the streets of GK to the very end, and see thousands of shacks at the edge of the GK site. It is possible to glance across the water and see a few meters away people living in shacks, then glance around and see people living in beautiful, clean cottages.
The people in GK Baseco are so friendly and so grateful for what they have. We stopped into a little classroom which was 4 meters by 8 meters. In one corner was a little play area for the children and the rest of the room was filled with tables, chairs and books. The teacher told us how he was able to teach the children thanks to the generosity of their international friends. He was especially pleased to point out the play area. This was a 1 by 2 meter area in which was a little plastic slide, some books, some stuffed animals and a few other toys. He told me this area was donated by the son of an international company, they had a plaque on the wall in his honour, he emphasized numerous times that the son donated this area personally. I felt so ashamed listening to him. That play area probably cost a total of $200. To anyone in the west that is NOTHING.
If we each contributed that amount to organisations such as Gawad Kalinga, and even more than that cared about the people who are living in such terrible conditions. If we didn't support greed and corruption through carelessness and the desire for our own comfort, there would be no need for this man to be so grateful for a plastic slide donated by the president's son of an international company. Gawad Kalinga is very careful to honour their international friends who make their work possible. Every street and house is named after the person or company who donated to make that possible. To the people living on those streets and in those houses, those international donors are really their friends, people who finally took the time to look past the misery of their conditions and realise that they are people who deserve a nice house and a clean neighbourhood and water, and a place for their children to attend school.
The difference these houses has made to those living in the communities and those working to build new communities is incredible. For the first time in their lives they are treated with respect, and looked on as part of the solution to the problems in which they live. The rich who generally ignore them and look down on them donate the materials but more than that come and work beside them to build their houses.
After Baseco, we toured a site which will soon begin construction. A group of children gathered round me as we walked through the site, and every time I smiled at them they would huddle together and giggle. Ren translated for me, that as the children would giggle excitedly and talk amongst themselves they would say "the white girl smiled at me." They were so excited just to look at me, catch my eye, smile and then turn to their friends and tell their friends I had smiled at them.
We sat down in a room for our final talk about Gawad Kalinga. A number of volunteers who were touring the site to plan the build joined us. At the end, they asked us to share our experiences, and all present turned expectantly to me. I didn't know what to do. As I'd spent two days building with those living in such conditions, I'd actively been helping them change and able to be their friend. At this point I was only able to see them, to smile at them, to leave them. I'd been telling myself all morning to be strong, not to see their poverty, but to see them for who they are. But it is very difficult to view someone as a fellow person and then to view the conditions they live in without strong emotions. So I tried to share my thoughts and couldn't, I just cried. I cried and tried to stop, to thank them for all they were doing, and for the incredible experience they'd given to me but I couldn't, all I could do was cry. My sharing was not what I intended it to be.
I finally stopped crying and we took a picture all together, at which point Tam asked me what I thought of Gawad Kalinga. Talk about terrible timing. I managed to hold back the tears since the children were all waiting for me, looking at me, and I wanted to at least leave them with a smile. We walked back to the van, and I chatted somewhat with the children asking them their names and ages. One little girl left the group and came with me all the way to the van, where we hugged and then I left.